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Divided States: 4 Florida Voters Weigh In After The Final Presidential Debate

John Palys of Orlando is voting for Hillary Clinton. Palys says that the Pulse nightclub shootings shook him "to his core" and that gun reform is now the most important issue for him this election.

Allen Sale of Lakeland, Fla., is voting for Donald Trump in the upcoming election, though Trump was not his first choice in the primaries.

As a Cuban-American whose parents fled Fidel Castro's Cuba, Annie Ruiz of Miami she feels very strongly that Americans need to protect their freedoms and preserve the Constitution. She supports Donald Trump.

Diana Font of East Orlando is a lifelong Republican but says she can't stand Donald Trump and will be casting her ballot for Hillary Clinton in November.

Florida is one of the most racially diverse battleground states, and the political geography of the Sunshine State — pockets of blue dotted along a long central strip of red — mean its 29 electoral votes are a hard-fought prize.

Immigration is the leading issue for many Hispanic voters in Florida in 2016, after Donald Trump made building a wall on the southern border a central issue of his campaign. Economics matters a great deal to Florida voters, too, many of whom are still struggling to recover from the financial and housing crisis of eight years ago. And in the wake of the shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando in June that killed 49, national security and gun control have also emerged as major issues in Florida this year.

If Donald Trump is to win the White House, his path to victory has to include Florida. The fight to win the state is personal for Trump: it has been his second home for three decades. On a recent trip there, he told supporters, "I'm here all the time." But the state's massive Hispanic population could spike his chances: Only 26 percent of Latinos in Florida are registered as Republicans this year.

Hillary Clinton holds a solid advantage in Florida, particularly among Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Younger generations of Hispanics are likely to vote Democratic. Yet Clinton has not garnered the same coalition of support that won Barack Obama two victories in Florida. And a September poll showed her lagging behind Trump among white Florida voters. In an effort to shore up support, Bill Clinton just launched a bus tour through the Republican-leaning central and northern parts of the state.

This week, Morning Edition brought its project Divided States to Florida. We met four voters to get their take before and after Wednesday's third and final presidential debate. (Listen to the audio above to hear the voters talk about Trump's refusal to commit to accepting the election results and Clinton's response. At another Morning Edition roundtable they talk about immigration.)

They are a Cuban-American mother in Miami who backs Trump; a retail associate from Orlando who is backing Clinton; a semi-retailed insurance agent from central Florida who supports Trump; and a Puerto Rican small business owner Republican who backs Clinton.

Here are some of their thoughts before and after the final presidential debate.

John Palys

Age: 30

Occupation: Retail associate

Despite growing up in a conservative Christian family, Palys has always voted Democrat. The shooting at the gay nightclub, Pulse, strengthened his belief in gun control and made him more determined to vote for Hillary Clinton because as a gay man from Orlando, he says it was an attack on his community. (Hear his profile.)

Before the debate:

At this point, she's had so much stuff thrown against her that if I hear another accusation today, honestly, I'm just going to root harder for her.

After the debate:

There's no doubt the divisiveness that Trump has caused versus one deplorables comment that Hillary made and then reversed. ... You know, he is not responsible for all his voters, but he will not disown that line of thinking or racism at the same time.

Allen Sale

Age: 58

Occupation: Semi-retired insurance agent

Sale is a lifelong member of the NRA; he has voted Republican for 20 years. Donald Trump was far from his choice in the Republican primary. But because he proudly says he has never once voted for a Democrat in a general election, he will cast his ballot for Trump on Nov. 8. (Hear his profile.)

Before the debate:

I like Star Trek, but I am not dressing like a Klingon and going to the convention, OK? I'm going to vote for Donald Trump, but his yard sign is not going in my front yard.

After the debate:

I would be disappointed if he put up more of a fight than Al Gore put up if he's put in the same situation that Al Gore was put in. [Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but lost the electoral vote; he strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision to grant the presidency to George W. Bush but offered his concession.]

Annie Ruiz

Age: 47

Occupation: Homemaker

Like many Cuban-Americans in Miami, Ruiz votes Republican. While second- and third-generation Cuban-Americans are voting increasingly Democratic, Ruiz is a firm Donald Trump supporter. (Hear her profile.)

Before the debate:

I think the media looks at Republicans and paints them as these crazy people, and I think it's quite frankly the opposite. I think a lot of what's been happening during this election, a lot of the Republicans and conservatives that support Trump are being targeted.

After the debate:

He's a fighter, which is what he called Hillary Clinton at the end of the last debate. ... He's not gonna go down easy.

Diana Font

Age: 59

Occupation: Event Planner

Font, who has always self-identified as a Republican, has decided she will cast her vote for Hillary Clinton this time. While she says she doesn't love Clinton, she does like that she is a mother and has experience in politics. She cannot back her party's candidate for president this time, but insists she hasn't switched parties for good; she remains a Republican who is taking a short break. (Hear her profile.)

Before the debate:

I don't want him with his finger on the nuclear bomb. Here's a man who's openly said that because if you're rich, you can touch any woman's bottom. I'm sorry, try coming to mine, and you'll see me kick your butt real fast.

After the debate:

Let's run a country, let's run a nation, let's stop the nonsense of whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. I'm going across the board right now as a Republican. I will go for Hillary, definitely, because I don't think he's worth it.
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