THE VILLAGES, Fla. – At the center of almost every political conversation this campaign season is a single question: President Donald Trump – for him, or against him?
Learn the answer to that, and you'll nearly always know whether someone's voting Republican or Democrat in midterm elections. The answer can also signal who someone's friends are because in our polarized country, the political increasingly intertwines with the personal.
We traveled here to central Florida to watch those dynamics in actions at The Villages, a retirement community about an hour northwest of Orlando. With more than 120,000 residents, it's massive enough to be its own census-designated place.
Residents move around these sunny streets in golf-carts. They play plenty of golf. But they also have lots of time to talk politics – and to vote.
Florida famously tipped the balance in the photo-finish presidential election of 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore. And it has sided with the winning candidate in every presidential contest since, backing Trump over Hillary Clinton by less than two percentage points two years ago.
Across the state, there are enough senior citizens to tip all the crucial contests Florida faces this year. Floridians 65 and over cast one in four votes in the midterm elections in 2014 – above the national average.
Their choices include eight battleground races for the House. In a volatile governor's race, Trump-loving Republican Ron DeSantis faces Democrat Andrew Gillum, who seeks to become the state's first African-American chief executive.
For the U.S. Senate, longtime Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson battles for re-election against current GOP Gov. Rick Scott, former CEO of a major hospital company. Nelson must win for Democrats to have any realistic shot at ousting Republicans and replacing Mitch McConnell with Charles Schumer as Senate majority leader.
Like the state as a whole, senior citizens are split. In a poll last month by Quinnipiac University, likely voters 65 and older favored the Democratic gubernatorial candidate by the narrowest possible 49 percent to 48 percent edge, and favored the Republican Senate candidate by 50 percent to 48 percent.
That made the divisions we found at The Villages no surprise. Trump supporters gave virtually no ground, hailing him as the greatest president of their lifetimes despite his many scandals and provocations.
Trump antagonists gave him virtually no credit, notwithstanding the robust U.S. economy. And in that way, the two sides at The Villages mirror the nation as a whole less than three weeks before Election Day.