What a difference a week makes!
Coming out of last week’s South Carolina primary election, Newt Gingrich had turned the Republican world on its head and stunned a party establishment that was readying the nomination crown for Mitt Romney. And then the Romney campaign released its dogs of war, both in two Florida debates and in living rooms all across the Sunshine State with an expensive barrage of new anti-Newt TV ads.
Now the public opinion polls show Romney pulling away big time, with Gingrich still beating the Florida bushes hoping for a miracle by voting time Tuesday.
Florida is the fourth state to vote in this presidential primary cycle and the largest one by far. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina still require quite a bit of retail politics — candidates meeting voters in small groups and town halls, making those personal connections that spread support among neighbors. That’s how former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum won in Iowa. But that’s NOT how you win in a place like Florida. This place is huge with several major cities and corresponding television markets and you need money and organization to compete here. Romney has a lot of that and Newt doesn’t have enough.
Florida Voters Find Mitt More Electable
Our informal survey of early voters found that Romney is doing well because more Republicans believe he would be a stronger opponent for President Obama than Gingrich. It seems like a lot of Republican voters, at least here, have come to the conclusion that Gingrich is a little too unpredictable and angry at times and that would hurt him if he were the Republican nominee in November.
Some of the Romney supporters told me at a rally that they found Gingrich’s proposal to establish a base on the moon ridiculous that he should be worried instead about jobs and stimulating the economy on Earth. Of course folks who live on Florida’s so-called Space Coast, home of Cape Canaveral, probably believe the moon plan would revitalize their local economy. But my guess is the moon base plan may not fly elsewhere.
Romney’s Well-Oiled Machine
The Romney campaign reminds me of those well-organized, well-funded Republican campaigns of yore, like the ones run on behalf of President George H.W. Bush and his son, President George W. Bush. The Gingrich campaign, by the way of contrast, seems a little closer to the Pat Buchanan insurgent campaigns of the 1990’s.
Romney has a disciplined core of aides who run his events with clockwork efficiency and the predictable preoccupation with the all-important national media, especially the TV networks. But at the Orlando event we attended, they even organized little kids to wave letters spelling out Romney’s first name as he was introduced.
They have also signed on an interesting opening “lounge act,” as he calls himself. That would be Arizona Senator John McCain, the man who defeated Romney in the Republican primaries four years ago and then complained bitterly about his attacks and money. Now McCain cracks a few jokes and goes after President Obama before introducing Romney. McCain is one thing, but the name you never hear the Republican candidates utter at their rallies — President George W. Bush. Guess they figure voters don’t want to hear too much about that era just yet.