Monday, November 7, 2011

The Tea Party and Florida

By Michael Johns

Among states critical to winning both the Republican nomination for President and the 2012 general election, few are likely more important than Florida.

At least three factors make the Sunshine State a critical one for Republican presidential candidates. First, the staggered schedule of state elections continues to make early caucus and primary electoral success essential to securing the nomination. With its primary scheduled for January 31, 2012, Florida is proceeded only by Iowa (January 3), New Hampshire (January 10) and South Carolina (January 21) in the electoral schedule. Second, as a product of population growth reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census, Florida has gained two additional electoral votes. Now holding 29 electoral votes, the Florida electoral prize lies only behind California and Texas (and tied with New York). And third, in modern electoral history, only one Republican presidential candidate has lost the general election while winning Florida (George H. W. Bush in 1992), and none has won without it. Republican victors (Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George H. W. Bush in 1988, and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 all carried Florida). Republican losers (Gerald Ford in 1976, Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008) failed to carry it.

This influence made this past weekend's first ever Florida tea party convention in Daytona Beach an important one as the state's tea party-aligned activists begin affiliating with presidential campaigns and making decisions about how they will cast their January 31 votes. Presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich called in to offer remarks to the convention, and Rick Santorum addressed it in person. Perhaps most important, as The Miami Herald reported, many attendees continued to express grave reservations about the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released today, is tied with Herman Cain among likely Republican voters.
"Some of these Republicans think they have our votes in the bag no matter what, but they don't," Florida tea party activist Don Koll told The Herald. "They're turning their back on us, and they will pay a price," he said. Another convention attendee, Kelly Staples of Jupiter, Florida, said: "I have yet to meet a committed Romney supporter. I don’t know why people are trying to make him the inevitable nominee, when he’s not."
Among Presidential candidates addressing the convention, Santorum focused on his electability, calling himself "the most electable conservative in this race." Gingrich, in his remarks, called President Barack Obama "the best food-stamp president in American history." Bachmann echoed her campaign message that the U.S. needs to be "a pro-growth, self-reliant nation." The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that the best reception at the convention was given to Cain, who declared that "the attack on my character has backfired."

The convention, however, was also notable for several no-shows, including tea party-supported Florida Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, both of whom had been invited. The convention was organized by Pam Dahl, who leads a tea party organization in The Villages in Central Florida. "We were very pleased for it being our first convention," she said. A 2012 Florida tea party convention, she said, is likely.

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