Gingrich and Romney in a Close Battle in Florida
The latest public opinion polls give former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney a slight lead in the Florida Republican Party presidential primary election over former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich. The stakes in Florida are probably bigger for Romney. He can’t afford another blowout loss like he suffered to Gingrich in last week’s primary in South Carolina.
Romney was ahead in the polls in Florida by a healthy margin before the South Carolina results came in. Now Gingrich has surged to a near-tie. But remember that the polls in Florida have been volatile for some time. Gingrich built a lead in Florida polls when he had his first surge in late 2011. Then Romney shot back up for a time until Gingrich found his momentum in South Carolina.
Florida is a large, diverse state and should be more open to Romney, who is perceived by most experts as slightly more moderate and appealing to the political center. And the center usually carries the day in Florida, a scattered mosaic of mainstream Republicans, conservative active and retired military folks and a reliably Republican faction of Cuban-Americans in south Florida.
Until South Carolina, Romney was winning the battle over which candidate would run the strongest race against President Obama in the fall. Exit polls in South Carolina showed more Republicans now believe Gingrich would be the stronger general election candidate. That shoots some serious holes into Romney’s arguments that he would be stronger because he would have more appeal to centrist voters, many of whom supported Obama four years ago.
Make no mistake. Florida is a huge showdown for the top two Republican contenders. A Gingrich victory in Florida coming on the heels of his surprisingly strong win in South Carolina would probably make him the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and that would force some party leaders to grapple with the notion that Newt Gingrich, with all his political and personal baggage, would have to be taken seriously as a potential presidential nominee.
On the other hand, if Romney can find a way to blunt the Gingrich momentum and raise fresh questions and doubts about the wisdom of him becoming the nominee, the former Massachusetts governor could turn around the race in Florida and count on doing well in the few contests scheduled for February.
The State of the Union and the State of Obama
The president’s annual State of the Union address to Congress and the American people was a pretty clear blueprint of how the White House sees the 2012 election campaign unfolding. The speech this week was heavily domestic and highlighted a number of practical proposals and solutions aimed at improving the U.S. economy, bolstering American education and generally trying to inspire voters that America is back after all the self-doubt in recent years.
In that sense, this address reminded me of the ones then-President Bill Clinton would give to the Republican-controlled Congress in the mid-1990’s when Clinton was fighting for his own re-election. By focusing on practical steps the government could take to help the average citizen, Mr. Obama seems intent on winning over centrist voters who were so important to his victory in 2008, but who have, to some degree, either deserted or become skeptical of his leadership qualities this year.
On one hand, the president talked about the need to take action on the economy even if the Republicans in Congress try to block him. On the other hand, he invoked the team approach of the U.S. military to encourage Americans to work together.
What’s going on here is clear. The president retains the support of Democrats, has lost the little Republican support he won in 2008 and is in jeopardy of losing independent voters this year unless he can portray himself as more of a unifying force, not a polarizing one.
I remember hearing from voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, centrist voters who supported the president four years ago. Many of them spoke of disappointment and almost sadness that Mr. Obama had not been more successful in his first three years in office. These people didn’t sound like angry anti-Obama types.
On the contrary, they came across as people who still like the president but don’t believe he has been effective. If there is one group the Obama campaign has to turn around this year, this is probably it.
The Obama campaign is going to have to work at bringing back these wayward independent voters, hope for another large turnout from young voters and African Americans, and, above all, hope the economy continues to improve over the next several months before the November election.