Saturday, August 18, 2018
Politics

Five things we learned from Florida's Republican primary, including money and negativity work

Florida spoke loudly and clearly Tuesday and, while it may take months to be sure, probably picked the Republican presidential nominee. A contest that looked uncertain when a wounded Mitt Romney came to America's biggest battleground state 10 days ago now looks much clearer thanks to Florida Republicans.

Five lessons from Florida:

1. Money and negativity work.

You can win a campaign if your opponent outspends you, but in a state where TV ads drive campaigns it's close to impossible to win if you're outspent nearly 5-to-1. That's the fundamental reason Gingrich saw his momentum ground into the dirt after he overwhelmingly won South Carolina Jan. 21.

Romney and his allies spent $15.4 million on TV and radio ads, compared with $3.7 million by Gingrich and his allies. More than nine out of 10 ads that ran across Florida over the past week were negative, according to Kantar Media.

The overwhelming negativity of Romney's campaign lately won't improve his image — an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed his unfavorability rating jumped 20 points among independents since November — but it did the job in knocking down the real threat from Gingrich.

There may be an overkill question. The Romney team tore into Gingrich so fiercely that it succeeded in firing up conservative leaders like Rush Limbaugh, who was disgusted by what he saw as the GOP establishment stomping on the tea party.

2. Romney is a much stronger candidate today.

He may still have that human connection problem, but no one can question his toughness or willingness to play hardball after Florida.

Already a consistently strong debater, Romney brought on board a new debate coach after his South Carolina drubbing. It worked. At debates in Tampa and Jacksonville, Romney looked comfortable with a newly aggressive style that left Gingrich reeling.

Barack Obama should worry.

3. The nuts and bolts of campaigns matter.

By 7:07 p.m. Tuesday, anyone monitoring Florida's election returns saw Romney leading Gingrich by a more than 2-to-1 ratio. Those reflected early votes and absentee votes that the Romney campaign aggressively went after early in January while the rest of the field was focused on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

TV is crucial in winning statewide Florida campaigns, but candidates dismiss the importance of early votes at their peril.

Neither the Gingrich campaign nor Winning Our Future, the Super PAC trying to help him, seemed to understand that. The campaign started chasing absentee ballot voters weeks after Romney's people had already sent multiple mail pieces to them. The Super PAC's TV spots were elusive until days before primary day. Too late. Exit polls showed only 29 percent of Florida Republicans made up their mind in the last few days.

How you run a campaign is a good measure of how you'll lead any enterprise. Romney has overseen a steady and formidable campaign machine. Gingrich's campaign has been much like the erratic caricature his critics deride.

4. Romney can win conservatives.

It's time to toss aside the narrative that he has a low ceiling of support among conservative Republicans. Florida was the first closed primary race of the year — no Democrats or independents allowed — and Romney won overwhelmingly.

Despite Florida's moderate battleground reputation, the GOP primary electorate is conservative — they're the same voters who made tea party newcomer Rick Scott their gubernatorial nominee in 2010 and who kicked Charlie Crist to the curb in favor of Marco Rubio.

The one in three Republicans who said they "strongly support" the tea party movement heavily favored Gingrich over Romney. But overall the exit polls showed Romney and Gingrich essentially tied among born-again evangelicals, self-described conservatives, and tea party supporters. Florida is where Romney finally broke apart that conservative ceiling.

And by the way, it looks as if tea party Republicans have reached a ceiling in Florida. Two out of three Republicans say they support the tea party, but overwhelmingly the most important candidate quality for Florida Republicans was their perceived ability to beat Obama. On that score Romney led everybody else by more than two to one.

5. Florida scored with its early primary.

State Republican leaders took a gamble by setting a Jan. 31 presidential primary in violation of national party rules, but there is no question it paid off. Not only did the state take center stage in the volatile early primary fight, it showed it belongs there.

If Romney becomes the nominee, which now seems likely, he will be a stronger candidate having competed hard in a state that looks like America. Winning a Florida Republican primary means reaching out to archconservatives, moderates, Hispanics, urbanites and rural Republicans. Romney showed he can.

South Carolina used to claim that no one wins the nomination without winning the Palmetto State. By the time Republicans crown their nominee in Tampa, Florida will likely have been proven the more reliable testing ground.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] Information from the New York Times was included in this report.

Comments
Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

ST. PETERSBURG — A political newcomer seeking a Pinellas County Commission seat has faced accusations of physical abuse and stalking from her former fiance, who twice sought court-ordered protection from her.Both allegations came after Democrat Amy K...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Two Seminole council members face challengers

SEMINOLE — Six candidates have filed to run for two open seats on the City Council.Incumbents Chris Burke, first elected in 2012, and Trish Springer, elected in 2015, face challenges from former council member Dan Hester, who served from 2005 to 2010...
Published: 08/16/18
In Republican race for Pinellas County Commission seat, Rep. Kathleen Peters outpacing field

In Republican race for Pinellas County Commission seat, Rep. Kathleen Peters outpacing field

As the Aug. 28 primary election approaches, three Republicans are battling to represent a Pinellas County Commission district that hasn’t witnessed a competitive contest for more than 15 years.State Reps. Larry Ahern of Seminole and Kathleen Peters o...
Published: 08/16/18
Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Decorum matters, and so the attorney’s language was appropriately measured.In seeking to have a constitutional amendment thrown off the ballot, a motion filed in Leon County used words such as "misleading’’ and "ambiguity’’ and "wordsmithing.’’That’s...
Published: 08/16/18
Veteran Hernando politicians take oversized contributions, run afoul of campaign finance laws

Veteran Hernando politicians take oversized contributions, run afoul of campaign finance laws

BROOKSVILLE — With primary Election Day at the doorstep, two Republican candidates vying for seats on the Hernando County Commission found themselves in uncomfortable spots over potential filings with the Florida Commission on Ethics.And a third Repu...
Published: 08/15/18
Q&A: A Watergate trickster talks dirty politics, then and now

Q&A: A Watergate trickster talks dirty politics, then and now

CLEARWATERNearly half a century ago, Martin Kelly made the mistake of his life.He was a senior at the University of Miami when he decided to take part in what would become one of the most infamous political scandals in U.S. history: Watergate. He was...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco Political Notebook for Aug. 17

Republican Club hosts candidate forum at meetingThe West Pasco Republican Club will host an "Election Extravaganza" candidate forum at its meeting Aug. 21 at Heritage Springs Country Club, 11345 Robert Trent Jones Parkway, Trinity. A social time will...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting Pasco County begins Saturday and runs through Aug. 25, with 11 locations across the county for voters.Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 20-24, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug...
Published: 08/13/18
Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

LARGO — There will be no suspense in the city when elections arrive Nov. 6. In fact, there will be no election at all, because all four city commissioners whose seats were up were re-elected by default when no one came forward by the end of the candi...
Published: 08/13/18
Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

The political kerfuffle around Melissa Howard began when a news site reported that the Florida state House hopeful is not a college graduate, as she claims to be. To prove the story wrong, Howard, R, reportedly flew to her proclaimed alma mater, Ohio...
Published: 08/12/18