As GOP presidential candidates bash President Barack Obama, voters clamor for specifics.

Anti-Obama memorabilia was displayed at Orlando’s Presidency 5 conference. Some worry a negative GOP campaign could lead to failure in the 2012 general election.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Anti-Obama memorabilia was displayed at Orlando’s Presidency 5 conference. Some worry a negative GOP campaign could lead to failure in the 2012 general election.

For three days last week Republican activists in Orlando heard an unrelenting stream of taunts, slams and jokes against President Barack Obama, a feast served by the candidates who want to replace him.

Raucous cheers followed. But some left Presidency 5 wondering if it was too much of a good thing.

"I don't like the Obama bashing," said Judy Gordon, a Tampa retiree. "I can figure that out for myself. I want to hear what people are going to do. People want answers, and they want solutions."

The sentiment was driven home by Herman Cain's shocking straw poll victory over front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Delegates said they were drawn to Cain's "9-9-9" tax reform plan and his call to overhaul Social Security by using a model from Chile.

Most of all, people were drawn to his enthusiasm. While his rivals slung mud, Cain inspired with a booming voice and a preacher's cadences, implicitly offering to lift people up in a down economy.

Few expect Cain to go much farther, but his win emphasized worries among some Republicans that a good chance to win the White House could be squandered by a flurry of anti-Obama negativity.

That model may have worked in the 2010 midterms, but the economy is perilously close to recession, and voters gave the GOP control of the House — and therefore, a measure of blame.

Many straw poll voters said they were looking to the candidate who offered the best ideas to resuscitate the economy. They heard some ideas. But they heard a lot more about how terrible Obama is and repeated jokes about his use of a TelePrompTer.

Darlene Wood Harvey, 60, of Sarasota said she was most aligned with Rick Santorum on social issues, but balancing the federal budget was more important. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania devoted most of his speech before the straw poll to past accomplishments.

"I still love him, but I haven't heard his plan for the country. I'd like to see that," Harvey said.

Cain is not the only candidate with a plan. Romney has a detailed one. So does Jon Huntsman. Newt Gingrich on Thursday outlined a 10-point plan to change the way Americans pay taxes and buy health care. Michele Bachmann, by contrast, has a couple of paragraphs on her campaign website.

Then there is Perry.

During last week's debate, Fox News moderator Brett Baier told the candidates that the most common refrain from people who submitted questions was a desire for specifics.

"They wanted details" he said. He turned to Perry and asked, "Where's your plan?"

"Well, you'll see a more extensive jobs plan," Perry dodged.

Days later, in an interview on Fox, Cain said Perry's response was "one of the biggest disappointments" for Republicans.

"You would have thought," Cain said, "that you would have at least already started to work on the outline of what you're going to do about the biggest crisis we face — other than national security — which is this economy. And I think that disappointed a lot of people."

On Friday, Perry will deliver an economic speech in Atlanta. But it will be a review of his record in Texas, not a policy rollout.

"We've been in the race six weeks," spokesman Mark Miner said. "There will be more issues and details talked about in the coming weeks and months."

The president has been traveling the country promoting his jobs plan, delivered after weeks of Republican criticism that he had not offered specifics.

The proposal, which Republicans have branded Stimulus II, has little chance of passing the divided Congress, but Obama is hoping voters see him as the one trying to tackle the problem — and Republicans as obstructionists trying to tear him down.

"It's a setup for the agenda he'd like to run on, but within this plan there are also some things that make the Democratic base a lot happier than they've been" like tax hikes on the rich, said Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "It just gets better when the Republican House doesn't give him what he wants," she added.

Obama wants Republicans to look like the so-called "party of no." After all, one key to his 2008 victory was the appearance that John McCain was too negative.

GOP pollster Dave Winston said: "Over 70 percent of voters think the country is going in the wrong direction. It's not a difficult argument to make that the president is doing a poor job. But when it's at 70 percent, people are starting to panic and they want to hear someone who has answers."

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos frets that 2012 will resemble Bob Dole's campaign against Bill Clinton in 1996.

"If it's a negative campaign, Obama holds the high ground," Haridopolos said. "He's a sitting president who's probably going to have twice the money. The only way you beat twice the money and the power of incumbency is the power of ideas."

Leon County Republican Francisco Gonzalez was one of many excited by Cain. He liked Cain's specifics. But, perhaps most of all, he could see Cain debating Obama. And winning. If there's one thing the Presidency 5 event proved, it was that debates matter. Words matter.

Gonzalez asked rhetorically: "Why can't we get someone who can speak, who's articulate?"

Times/Herald staff writer Michael C. Bender contributed to this report.

Huntsman closing Orlando headquarters

Abandoning his strategy of focusing on Florida, South Carolina and Nevada, Jon Huntsman is closing his Orlando campaign headquarters, laying off staff and moving the operation to New Hampshire. He was pretty much invisible in Florida anyway, except for Mrs. Huntsman, an Orlando native. "As evidenced by recent polling, Jon Huntsman's support with New Hampshire voters continues to grow every day, and this move will ensure that we have the resources necessary to win the First in the Nation primary," campaign manager Matt David said. The campaign will have an office in Miami.

As GOP presidential candidates bash President Barack Obama, voters clamor for specifics. 09/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 11:16pm]

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