August 16, 2007

Polk County's Place in Florida's Gangland

So whether you grew up in Tallahassee, Pensacola, or Polk County, your views on race were shaped by those surroundings. Being inside or outside the Cotton Belt mattered. Is there any other reason why Polk County's location mattered? Probably.

Look at the map. Polk County is almost exactly in the center of the state. Practically speaking, it allows you equal access to North and South Florida, and you're smack in the middle of prime political real estate--the "swing voter capital of the world" AKA the I-4 Corridor.

Further, if you're walking the state from Century to the Florida Keys, you've got another advantage. Consider the following fictional example from the 1970 campaign trail.


Lawton Chiles: "Hi, I'm Lawton Chiles, the Walking Senator. What can you tell me I should be thinking about as candidate for the U.S. Senate?"

North Florida voter: "Where are you from?"

Chiles: "Polk County."

North Florida voter: "Thank god you ain't another crook from Miami!"

Farther along the walk, near Miami, he runs into a voter...she asks the same question.

South Florida voter: "Thank god you ain't another crook from the Panhandle!"


Play this scene over and over again and you get a sense of one of decades-long regional rivalry between Florida's diverse, distant political poles. If Chiles had been from Orlando, just a half hour away from Lakeland, he may not have had as much luck, since he would've been associated with that political-economic behemoth in the eyes of Miami and Panhandle voters.

But sleepy little citrus-and-phosphate Polk County tucked in the middle of Central Florida gave him the political equivalent of neutral gang colors as he hit the road for the biggest gamble of his political life...

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