After Mitt Romney spoke at a rally in Naples on Sunday, a young man worked his way through the crowd, swimming against the current of tanned, elderly attendees leaving the plaza. A one-dollar bill was plastered over his mouth, symbolizing the silencing power of money. On it, he had written “99%.” An older man saw him and laughed, saying, “Don’t you know we’re the 1%?” The protester in the money muzzle did not respond.
Romney’s supporters in Florida are not put off by his fortune. Many attendees find the outcry against the 1% uncompelling, if not un-American—whether it comes from Occupy protesters, an ad aimed at Romney’s work in private equity or President Obama’s call for “fair share” taxation. “This is America. It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave,” said Roy Bartlett, a 60-year-old engineer who attended the rally. “So if you make a million and somebody else makes a dollar, you shouldn’t be scolded for making more money than somebody else.” Odette Sabb, a retiree who splits her time between Florida and Michigan said, sure, Romney’s wealth is an issue for some people— because they’re jealous.
“I’m proud to be in the 1%. I worked to be in that 1%. I was in the engineering and construction business. I started out with this much,” said William Stout, making an empty circle with his hand. He was the man who had heckled the silent Occupier. Romney earned his money, paid taxes and gave to charity, he said, “So as far as I’m concerned, he deserves every dollar he made.”
Middle-class Republicans at Romney events echoed this sentiment. On Sunday, in a dingy parking lot outside a Cuban restaurant in Hialeah, a struggling financial adviser named Alan Reynolds had come to tell Romney his story. “The thing is I’m in the middle class. I’m not close to 1%, and I don’t earn anywhere in the upper echelon. But,” he said, “I believe in capitalism, and I want our employers to do well.” He had voted for Obama in 2008, but said he had registered as a Republican this cycle and was leaning toward Romney, because he had business sense and seemed electable.
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Many Romney boosters said that class divisions in America are inevitable and that Democrats are to blame for turning that divide into conflict. “I don’t want to hear more and more speeches from the President blaming people,” Reynolds said. Obama is “breaking people up into smaller segments so that they’re not unified.”
Kade Kelly, a 20-year-old member of Occupy Tampa, feels that Obama and Romney are ignoring the working class. “They both represent business and corporations instead of the citizens that they’re supposed to support,” he said at a Romney rally in Dunedin on Monday. He and some 10 fellow protesters were handing out flyers with a caricature of Mitt Romney crossed out. The papers objected to his low tax rate, enormous earnings and the corporate takeovers he executed at Bain Capital.
After Romney gave his speech and hundreds of attendees started to leave, two of the Occupiers unrolled a big banner in front of the camera stands. “Dear Mr. 1%, Go fire yourself!” it read, “Love, The People (Not Corporations).” Romney supporters stood in front of the sign to block the shot. Tense words were exchanged. The Occupiers started chanting, largely drowned out by Romney’s theme song, Kid Rock’s “Born Free” and chants of “Let’s go, Mitt!”
Kade said the Occupy Tampa movement was trying to reform laws like the one that prohibits panhandling on Sundays. Fighting for the right to ask other people for money couldn’t be more at odds with the message of entrepreneurial capitalism espoused by Romney’s campaign. “Everybody has equal opportunity. So I’m tired of hearing about what the poor people don’t have,” Stout, the wealthy Romney supporter, said on Sunday. “We’re in a market-driven society, so we have to figure out a way to make a living here. … We can’t pay more taxes for people who don’t earn.”