OCALA, Florida, February 1, 2012―The GOP race for the White House has taken another turn in what has been a roller-coaster ride. Yet one constant throughout the race is that Mitt Romney, the commanding victor in Florida with almost 50% of the vote, has been the front-runner with staying power.
Tim Pawlenty was thought to be Mr. Romney’s initial challenger, but he dropped out after a third place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll and was quickly supplanted when Rick Perry entered the race. Mr. Perry faltered after some rough debate performances. Both Ms. Bachmann and Mr. Perry dropped out after poor showings in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, respectively. Herman Cain briefly rocketed to the top, only to fall back and drop out under a cloud of unproven sexual allegations. He did not make it to the Iowa Caucus.
When the dust settled going into Iowa, four candidates each had a chunk of the Republican electorate. Mitt Romney was the establishment candidate. The social conservatives finally coalesced around Rick Santorum. Ron Paul was supported by the Libertarian anti-war activists. Newt Gingrich tapped into the vein of those tired with the liberal media.
Rick Santorum won Iowa. Mitt Romney won New Hampshire. Newt Gingrich won South Carolina. Yet every time Mitt Romney is on the ropes, he comes back. Governor Romney had a decisive win in Florida. While this has confounded “experts,” ordinary people observing events could see this coming.
I personally spent ten days in South Carolina, and have covered the state from Hilton Head in the South to Greenville in the North all the way to Aiken out West. In Florida I have traveled from Miami in the South to near Jacksonville up North.
My own experiences of just meeting and talking to people have provided insight whose value was matched only by its simplicity.
For starters, Senator Santorum and Dr. Paul were not campaigning in Florida in the final day.
Senator Santorum had a family emergency. His three year old daughter Bella had to be hospitalized. She has an extra chromosome, and her being alive is a miracle in itself. Senator Santorum was supposed to speak to an Orthodox Jewish group in Boca Raton, but he canceled his events to be with his daughter. She has recovered, and Senator Santorum decided not to return to Florida with the race out of reach. Florida is a “winner take all” contest, so it made more sense for him to go to Colorado and Nevada. Nevada has the next Caucus, with Colorado soon after.
Ron Paul knew that Florida was not friendly territory for him. He does not have a natural constituency there. He has made it clear that he is focusing on the caucus states. His organizers are fiercely loyal activists. Trying to convince elderly Jews in Palm Beach that Ron Paul is really pro-Israel is not their strong suit. Getting the hard-core caucus-goers to attend meetings in any type of bad weather is where they excel. Dr. Paul, for these and other reasons, has also already made his way to Colorado and Nevada.
This left the state of Florida to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Coming out of South Carolina, the conventional wisdom was that Newt Gingrich had momentum and Mitt Romney was on the ropes. The conventional wisdom was wrong because it failed to understand that 50 states means many divergent opinions.
Rick Santorum won Iowa because he is a social conservative in a state dominated by Christian activists. Pundits who claimed that this election would focus on economics were, as usual, wrong. Values voters gave Mike Huckabee the Iowa win in 2008. Even Pat Robertson finished strong there. Ronald Reagan lost there in 1980.
New Hampshire exists to contradict Iowa. New Hampshire is much more libertarian. This is why Mitt Romney was able to win convincingly. He was the executive in neighboring Massachusetts. Social conservatism is not what New Hampshire voters care about. Their focus on economics allowed Ron Paul to finish second. Even Jon Huntsman had votes in New Hampshire. The social conservatives fared poorly.
South Carolina is the Bible Belt. Social conservatism dominates, as do military matters. The Cadets at the Citadel in Charleston liked Rick Santorum. Social conservatives in South Carolina did not want Ron Paul or Mitt Romney. They did not want a libertarian leader. Rick Santorum could have become the alternative to Mitt Romney if not for one debate in South Carolina. When John King asked Newt Gingrich about unsubstantiated allegations from his ex-wife, Mr. Gingrich lacerated Mr. King. The audience roared with approval. Mr. Gingrich was seen a a fighter. He was socially conservative enough for South Carolina, and therefore the preferred choice to stop Mr. Romney.
While the candidates were doing plenty of events in South Carolina, I was as well. I spoke at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and to the Sea Island Republican Women in Charleston, in the Southern part of the state. I then traveled just shy of the North Carolina border to address the York County GOP and the Clover-Lake Wylie Republican Women. These diverse audiences allowed me to hear differing opinions. Yet the one consensus was that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were acceptable social conservatives and Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were not.
Florida should not have been a surprise because the electorate is by and large not a socially conservative electorate. My plane from South Carolina landed in Palm Beach on January 28th, and by that evening I was speaking in Miami to the Log Cabin Republicans at their Cocktail Caucus. The Log Cabin Republicans are the preeminent gay Republican group in the United States. While they certainly care about issues in the gay community such as the successful repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they also are passionate about core Republican issues. They want lower taxes, reduced spending, and a strong national defense.
For obvious reasons, most homosexual Republicans are not going to be social conservatives. Rick Santorum received 0 votes in the straw poll. Of the 34 votes, Mitt Romney won 24. Newt Gingrich collected six votes and Ron Paul, four. For those wondering why Ron Paul did not do better, there were two reasons. While gay Republicans are libertarian on social issues, they are not anti-war activists for the most part. Also, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul all succeed when they show that Romney is not acceptable. They then try to be the alternative. In this case Romney was acceptable enough, so an alternative was not needed.
This also applied to the Jewish vote. Ron Paul supporters have passionately argued that Dr. Paul is good for Israel. His detractors have accused him of everything from being anti-Israel to overt anti-Semitism. When all was said and done, the Jewish community did not find Dr. Paul acceptable.
Rick Santorum also struggles in the Jewish community for a different reason. He is seen as overwhelmingly pro-Israel, but that is not how liberal Jewish voters make their decisions. Liberal Jews care about social issues. They would never vote for Mr. Santorum. Even Republican Jews tend to be moderate on social issues. So in choosing between various pro-Israel candidates, the ones emphasizing social conservatism lose out. In this sense Florida directly contradicts South Carolina.
Dr. Paul also fares poorly in the Cuban communities. He is willing to talk to Fidel Castro. Cuban voters tend to be rabidly anti-Castro. Dr. Paul did not pander to them. He has his philosophy, and they disagree with them.
So Ron Paul and Rick Santorum had too many constituencies against them, narrowing the field to the two finalists in South Carolina, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
My goal was to attend rallies for both candidates, but geography, luck, and timing made this impossible. My parents live in Palm Beach County, and Mr. Gingrich spoke there on the 27th and the 29th. My mother heard him on the 27th. She estimated the crowd at about 700 people, and she said that Mr. Gingrich had the crowd excited and pleased. I did not arrive until the 28th, and the dinner on the 29th was a private event.
Mr. Romney had events that were more accessible for me. On the evening of the 29th, Herman Cain made a surprise appearance at the dinner to support Mr. Gingrich. Yet again, the Palm Beach County Lincoln Dinner was a high-priced affair. Mr. Romney spoke that night in Pompano Beach, near Fort Lauderdale. I was there, and the room was packed to capacity. There was an overflow room, and Governor Romney came through there and greeted supporters before even going on to the stage.
While Mr. Romney was speaking, his surrogates were holding an event at a synagogue in Fort Lauderdale. Former Senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Jim Talent of Missouri made the case for Mr. Romney. While around 1,000 people heard Mr. Romney speak, about 100 came to the synagogue. I attended both events. There were some Orthodox Jews who attended the Romney event itself rather than go to the synagogue.
While Mr. Gingrich could have had his surrogates do events, I can only go to events I know about. The Romney team bombarded me with emails about events that were not on the official calendar. The Gingrich team did not. This showed a serious gap in the “ground game.”
On the evening of the 30th, I spoke at 7pm to the Tri-County Tea Party in Lady Lake, Florida. Only four miles away, Governor Romney was speaking at The Villages. Everybody knows the Villages. Their commercials are everywhere. Mr. Gingrich spoke there earlier at a Barnes and Noble. The crowd was estimated at between 2,000 and 5,000 people.
Mr. Romney had at least 3,000 people and possibly 5,000. While Jeb Bush, Rick Scott, and Marco Rubio have stayed neutral, Mr. Romney again had influential surrogates. Mr. Gingrich has support from Sarah Palin and Herman Cain, but they are national figures. Mr. Romney had Agriculture Secretary Adam Putman, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and former Senator Connie Mack the elder. Mr. Romney even began singing “God Bless America” as the crowd went wild.
Carl Cameron was there, and I told Mr. Cameron that I would wait until Governor Romney was done before I started speaking so as not to take away his audience and his thunder. Yet had Mr. Romney finished by 6:45pm, I would have zero guilt about beginning my 7pm speech without harming him.
Despite some tough competition, I still addressed over 200 people. While the Tea Party in general is not in love with Mitt Romney, social issues were non-existent in the question and answer session I faced.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2012, brought the conclusion to the Florida results. Governor Romney had his election night party in Tampa, while Speaker Gingrich was on the other side of the famous I-4 Corridor in Orlando. My speech at 7pm to the Lake Arrow Tea Party was in Keystone Heights, about midway between Ocala and Jacksonville. So as Mr Gingrich, Mr. Romney and I all compete for television time and audience members, the only thing left to do was thank the good people of Florida before moving on to Nevada. I still have to address the North Lake Tea Party on February 1st. My events in Las Vegas are the following week, so the candidates have a head start on me.
Being on the ground and meeting with and talking to actual people provides a much clearer picture than radio ads and television images. Listening to people helps even more.
This was not about money. Mitt Romney has plenty of money, but Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have financial backers with deep pockets. I have met Foster Friesse and Sheldon Adelson, and they will invest their money as they see fit. They have both done well in life on their own without listening to pundits. Ron Paul has passionate supporters who are anti-war but perfectly willing to drop money-bombs at will. Money is not the issue in this campaign.
Organization is part of it. Mitt Romney has a solid organization. Ron Paul has one as well. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have less of an infrastructure.
Yet when all is said and done, it really was issues that made the difference. People love to complicate very simple pictures to sound “deep.” There is nothing deep or complex about the last two contests.
Social conservatives reign supreme in Iowa and South Carolina. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich won. New Hampshire and Florida do not emphasize social conservatism. Mitt Romney won both.
Mitt Romney has been criticized by conservatives for being “too moderate.” This strategy works in South Carolina, a conservative state. Florida is a moderate state, so that strategy failed. South Carolina voters cared about values issues. Florida voters cared about collapsed real estate prices and sky high unemployment. In South Carolina, Mitt Romney was unacceptable. This allowed the alternatives to rise. In Florida Mitt Romney was perfectly acceptable, sending his detractors to the sidelines.
Now Nevada has its say. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are already there, and the contest takes place on February 4th. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney will be there very soon, and I will join them all shortly thereafter with analysis.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a politically conservative columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian.
Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.” Eric is 100% alcohol, tobacco, drug, and liberalism free. After years of dating liberals, he has finally seen the light and now only dates Republican Jewish women. His family is pleased over this. Republican, Jewish women, you may contact Eric above.
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