As the presidential election nears, Morning Edition has begun a series of reports from an iconic American corner: First and Main. Several times in the next few months, we’ll travel to a battleground state, then to a vital county in each state. In that county, we find a starting point for our visit: First and Main streets, the intersection of politics and real life.
We started our trip to Florida’s Hillsborough County at the corner of First and Main in a suburban town. From there, we crossed the county, meeting trailer-park residents, members of a historic church, owners of a fruit stand and more.
We finish at the end of a Tampa cul-de-sac, where Wanda Kos stepped out into her garage the other day.
Kos, the daughter of Costa Rican immigrants, is the mother of three. She wears sneakers and a gray T-shirt. Her face dimples when she smiles.
Her husband works as a chef, and she’s a stay-at-home mom in this area called New Tampa, where suburban-style developments spread out for miles.
This neighborhood has stone countertops, high ceilings and lush Florida palm trees in the yards.
“It looks beautiful, but we have issues,” Kos says. “I mean, there’s issues in every single place you see in here.”
This is the kind of area where the real estate market soared then collapsed during the financial crisis.
“Things feel like they’re finally kind of settling in,” she says. “People, you know, kind of took their losses and started making do with what they had. A lot of people did lose their houses.
“We had friends that had to move away. We had … six to nine foreclosures in our neighborhood alone.”
Like everybody else, she says, she looked up how much her home is now worth.
“Because we move around, we know we have another move. We know we’re going to lose some more money,” she says. “So it’s kind of tough.”
‘It Takes Time’
And as she wipes a little sweat from her face on this humid afternoon, Kos thinks of how the neighborhood has become unfamiliar.
“Lot of houses are rentals now. You know, people have moved out and have [rented] their houses,” she says. “Couldn’t sell the houses so they started renting them. We don’t know who they’re letting in.”
In the last election, she says, she voted for President Obama. And then she laughs — because she doesn’t like to get into political fights.
This time around, she says, she’s on the fence.
“Usually my husband and I have a huge conversation, and we sit down and we go through our pros and cons, and we go through … who our candidates are. And we try our hardest,” she says.
They both decided on Obama in 2008, she says.
“I think he came in, he thought he could do so much, and everybody … we wanted to believe this, and we thought it was possible. But like everything, it takes time,” she says.
But she’s not disappointed in the president.
“I tend to understand,” she says, when “you try really hard but, you know, [but] there’s just so much you can do.”
She adds: “I don’t know if I’m a fan of Obamacare.”
She hasn’t quite figured out what it means for her. All she knows is that she gets all kinds of paperwork if she goes to the hospital now.
‘A Very Scary Place’
On social issues, she’s with the president. She got in a big argument on Facebook the other day over Chick-fil-A, the restaurant chain whose president spoke out against gay marriage.
She insists she is an undecided voter for now — which, according to surveys, would make her one of the nation’s very few.
But she does not start out with a positive impression of the Republican alternative, Mitt Romney.
“I just question too many things about him,” she says.
In the coming months, Kos and her husband will be talking through their decision once again, just as they did four years ago. This time around, her decision will be an emotional one — because, as she votes for president, she is voting for a commander in chief.
Her son’s commander in chief.
“My son who’s 20 [has] just joined the Army, and that is — it’s scary,” she says. “He’s going to leave for basic training Sept. 11. Not Sept. 10, not Sept. 12, Sept. 11.”
“And he chose it, and he wanted it, and he thought it was for him. And he fought for it. I mean, we went back and forth for almost 10 months. And for a mom who — I was a single mom for a while — and to work as hard as I did for him to choose it –”
She breaks off, in tears.
“The future is — it’s a very scary place.”
And with that, Kos and her daughter Sofia go back to cleaning the paint out of the garage.
“So that’s my life,” she says with a laugh. “You guys got me in a nutshell.”