The record level of unemployment and the collapse of real estate are the dominating issues of the Republican campaigns.
On the bank of the Saint-Johns river, the Colbert family lives in a spacious house, half an hour by car from the ocean: a small corner of paradise in northeast Florida. But for Marvin Colbert, it's a stressful paradise.
This industrial equipment specialist moved into this residence before he sold his first property, just before the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2007, which transformed Florida into "Ground Zero" of property seizure. He has been unemployed since 2009; his two daughters are in college. Luckily, his wife has a well-paid job. The bank has just seized his first house (for a reason his lawyer considers fraudulent) and he is expecting the worst for the second. Valued in 2008 at $800,000, now it is not worth more than $340,000.
Marvin's story is common in Florida, the state second-most affected by property seizures in the United States. In his plush neighborhood, one quickly notices the houses repossessed by the banks. There’s the notice on the front door, the wild weeds in the garden, the sense of abandonment. Visibly distressed, the 47 year old will neither vote on Tuesday nor in November. Washington has driven him to despair. "No candidate will help me solve my problems, politicians are all the same," he said.
A hellish spiral
In the United States, as soon as one loses work, life can quickly deteriorate. Some find themselves on the street. Unemployment and seized houses are linked. Retirement depends on work, as does health care coverage. According to a Gallup survey, 72 percent of Americans fear a new deterioration in the economy within the year. Despite the encouraging signs, Florida still shows a 9.9 percent unemployment level, unseen for decades. In November, electors will say whether they are satisfied with Barack Obama's efforts to set the economy straight. Those who vote Republican must choose between Mitt Romney, the great favorite, or one of his rivals to do better than the president on this front. Newt Gingrich comes second in the polls; Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are trailing. The least politicized electors still do not see the difference between a Democrat and a Republican on the economy.
Richard, an electrician, has found himself unemployed several times since Obama's arrival at the White House. But, thanks to his savings and the 60 percent drop in housing prices in Florida, he bought himself a $200,000 house not long ago valued at double the amount. He works in his father's transportation company while waiting to find a job in construction, a sector which has been devastated in Florida. Richard voted for Obama in 2008 and will do the same for November. "The president has made mistakes, but he shows that he is trying, it's Congress which is blocking his action. He straightened up General Motors. He passed the health reform. In 2008 we were asking ourselves if the banking sector was going to disappear, but today the situation has stabilized," he said.
This middle class representative does not approve of the attacks against multimillionaire Romney, former owner of Bain Capital. "I laugh when I think of how much he pays in taxes, what interests me are his competencies for sorting out the economy," explains Richard. In fact, one of Gingrich’s arguments presents Romney as a candidate incapable of defending the middle class — the first victims of the crisis. In retaliation, Romney attacks Gingrich for his lobbyist work of $1.6 million for Freddie Mac, responsible for millions of housing seizures.
Many Florida natives deplore that the Republican candidates spend more time attacking each other than suggesting solutions to sort out the state economy, borne by tourism, services and construction. Gingrich's proposition to create a colony on the moon has not elicited the expected enthusiasm in the NASA state. The homes affected by the housing crisis say they are perplexed by Romney's approach. During a round table last week, he assured that the banks responsible for the credits "would also suffer" themselves. In October, he professed that it would be worth more to leave the market to crumble in order to reconstruct on healthy bases.
This speech went down badly in Florida, where people like Marvin Colbert count on the government to encourage programs to refinance their loans and ask for more control of the banks.