Florida is home to an almost magical political vibe. Whether handing George W. Bush the White House after an agonizing recount in 2000 or sealing the deal for John McCain’s presidential nomination in 2008, the Sunshine State, often to the befuddlement of the rest of the country, is the engine that makes U.S. politics run.
We saw this Tuesday, when Republican primary voters delivered a resounding victory to Mitt Romney, giving him a much-needed boost after his South Carolina shellacking at the hands of Newt Gingrich. The outcome in Florida will likely cement Romney’s status as the most likely presidential nominee of the Republican party and reveals a great deal about the state of politics in our country today.
Two weeks ago, the world seemed to be crashing down around Romney’s ears. His juggernaut campaign was reeling from a double-digit thumping in South Carolina’s primary — which had been won by every GOP nominee since 1980 — and his squeaker eight-vote win in Iowa had been rescinded and made a narrow loss to Rick Santorum. Suddenly, we saw a guy who had only carried quirky New Hampshire, a “Massachusetts moderate” (as his rival Gingrich never fails to label him) who was hemorrhaging conservative support.
Truly successful presidential candidates undergo trials by fire, though. They are judged by how they pick themselves up after falling down. Barack Obama and George W. Bush underwent such rough patches in stunning primary losses in New Hampshire, yet by dusting themselves off in an effective manner, they charged forward to the nomination and the presidency.
Perhaps that’s what we’re seeing with Romney. His victory in Florida can be attributed to six critical factors that tell us how he’ll attempt to sew up this nomination and beat Obama in November.
One, Romney got started early. With estimates that about a third of the primary’s ballots were cast before polls opened Jan. 31, Romney’s organization aggressively banked thousands of early votes as an insurance policy — a testament to their organizational savvy and fortitude.
Two, Romney relied on powerful endorsements and tacit support from neutral parties. In heavily Hispanic South Florida, his support from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, former Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño (SFS ’82) was critical to his big numbers. Additionally, the officially unaligned big hitters of Florida GOP politics, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), defended Romney against Gingrich’s attacks. Look to that pattern of local support networks continuing in the future.
Three, Romney not only threw a lot of money at Florida, he did so in a smart and effective fashion. His campaign, and of course affiliated super PACs, ran a sophisticated get-out-the-vote and advertising effort. One ad, featuring Tom Brokaw’s 1997 newscast detailing the ethics indictment of Gingrich, was particularly devastating. This was part of a wise strategy to bludgeon Gingrich and squash his post-South Carolina bounce.
Four, Romney effectively changed the narrative in Florida. What had long been an “Anybody but Mitt” race almost instantly transformed into an “Anybody but Newt” race. As Gingrich nabbed a primary win, the GOP’s leaders began to coalesce all the more around Romney. Conservative publications like The National Review, commentators like Ann Coulter and elected officials like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vocally and repeatedly warned that Gingrich was at best unelectable, and at worst unstable.
Five, Romney got his groove back in debates. He was polished, persuasive, aggressive and downright presidential, particularly in the last debate on Jan. 26. He outflanked Gingrich on Gingrich’s most comfortable terrain, the debate stage. Expect Romney to be even more ferocious and effective if he gets the chance to face off against Obama in the fall.
Six, Gingrich is a profoundly flawed competitor. To a large extent, Romney’s continued success in the primaries is rooted in the ex-speaker’s foibles. Gingrich has demonstrated through his rhetoric and his past that he is undisciplined, unfocused, unprincipled and erratic. Time and again, Newt Gingrich has shown that his principal concern is for himself.
It seems that Romney’s momentum will only increase, with favorable turf approaching in Nevada, Michigan and Arizona. Barring an implosion, he is likely to be the GOP nominee. In that case, Florida will be remembered as the state where Romney got his act together and started waging a vigorous campaign for president.
Sam Dulik is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the Director of Special Events for the Georgetown University College Republicans. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.