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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Does Paul Ryan damage Romney's chances in Fla?



Does Paul Ryan on the GOP ticket do anything to help Mitt Romney win Florida?

Consider some 2008 exit poll data:
**Four years ago John McCain beat Barack Obama among Florida voters 65 and over by 8 percentage points.
**Obama won women by 5 percentage points.
**Obama won Hispanic voters by 15 points.
**Obama won independent voters by 7 points.

Except perhaps independent voters deeply troubled by the debt and deficit, it's hard to see how an election that stands to be a referendum on the Ryan budget plan  does anything to help Romney improve his Florida performance over McCain's four years ago. Everything I've seen and heard, as well as the public polls, suggested Republican turnout would significantly improve over 2008, but perhaps Romney's pollsters saw something we didn't. The Ryan pick seems much more about energizing the conservative base than expanding it.

In a state where more than 20 percent of the state’s population, nearly 3.9-million people, rely on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, and where an AARP poll recently found baby boomers approaching retirement age deeply anxious about their ability to retire, Romney-Ryan clearly will be on defense over the next 80 days about the Ryan plan to radically revamp Medicare.

"I don't think we've ever seen a pick that was done to give a campaign a message," said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. "It is a very, very high risk, very low, low reward. Is this going to be Sarah Palin in a necktie with a secret plan to destroy Medicare? How do you win the presidency without Florida? It would be like bringing a running mate to Iowa who doesn't believe there should be corn."

It's not so clear, however, that calls for revamping entitlement programs are as radioactive as they once were. Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, another on Romney's short list of potential running mates, won his Senate race in 2010 while openly calling for entitlement cuts for future beneficiaries. "It's not as toxic as it used to be, but it still smells bad,'' said former state Republican chairman Tom Slade, noting that far more voters today than a decade ago see Medicare and Social Security as unsustainable.

Democrats had already intended to wrap the Ryan budget and future cuts to entitlements around Romney, and the vice presidential pick only makes that easier.

"They've been doing that since Claude Pepper, and I'm sure Debbie Wasserman Schultz is going to talk about how every old person needs to hide under the mattress and fear a Republican takeover," said Brian Ballard, a top Romney fundraiser in Tallahassee, referring to the Florida congresswoman and head of the Democratic National Committee. "But at least Democrats are going finally to have an honest debate, instead of picking garbage about Bain Capital and all the rest."

Republican strategist John Feehery said the race will be "a battle of ideas and also generations. But they have to make sure it's not a referendum on Medicare. Republicans have to be ready with talk how they are going to preserve Medicare for people over 60."
On top of the debate about entitlement reform, Democrats have potent ammunition to paint Romney-Ryan as out of step with Hispanics and swing voters.
Ryan is a hard-liner on immigration, who has used the inflammatory term "anchor babies." He supports making abortions illegal in cases of rape and incest.

Mitt Romney can't win the White House without winning Florida, and many Florida Republican strategists cheered the Ryan choice.

"In Florida, I believe the Ryan choice will play very well because like Marco (Rubio), he is an articulate blue-collar messenger who balances solid tea party street cred with a reputation for a well-reasoned, pragmatic approach," said GOP fundraiser Slater Bayliss. "I believe this balance will play well with Florida's swing voter."

Perhaps. But Florida's 29 electoral votes seem like a tougher reach for Romney today than two days ago.

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[Last modified: Sunday, August 12, 2012 2:27pm]


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