Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Politics

Mitt Romney pads advantage in Florida with aggressive early voting effort

DUNEDIN

Mitt Romney was spilling with confidence as he stepped onto a stage here Monday and said, "With a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow, what do you think?"

But when polls open at 7 a.m. for Florida's Republican presidential primary, many in the crowd will take the day off.

They have voted already, some weeks ago, among hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have turned in absentee ballots or went to the polls early. Nearly 40 percent of all votes may be in before today.

No candidate has pursued these riches more than Romney, who used his vast resources to inform voters about early options and keep on them until they followed through.

The padding he built up — a stream of polls in recent days show Romney up by an average of 12.5 points — has made Newt Gingrich's struggle that much harder.

"He's got the bases covered," said Joan Savage, 75, of Palm Harbor who attended the rally in downtown Dunedin but had already cast her vote for Romney. A walk through the thick crowd indicated she was not alone.

"I voted for him three weeks ago," said Rae Tooley, a retiree from Clearwater, adding that she got several calls from the Romney campaign encouraging her to turn in her ballot. "We need a good man with principles in the Oval Office."

By Monday, 603,459 early and absentee votes had been cast across Florida, about 100,000 above the 2008 primary. Overall turnout could be lower than 2008 because there was a property tax cut on ballot that was pushed hard by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Romney's campaign started the effort in December, when the state made a list of absentee requests available. Those people were contacted through mail and by phone, and invited to participate in one of four "tele-town halls" with the candidate.

Some voters got knocks on their doors reminding them to turn in ballots. The campaign also held events outside early-voting sites.

"It was a major part of our game plan," said spokesman Ryan Williams. "We're going to keep that operation in place so that we can go toe-to-toe with President Barack Obama's formidable political machine."

Gingrich's campaign says it has targeted early voting, too, but he got a later start in Florida and has lacked the financial resources to match Romney.

A Republican voter in Tallahassee said this week that he got a Gingrich mail piece 20 days after requesting an absentee ballot, while Romney mail started flowing almost immediately. Gingrich was too late; the voter had already returned his ballot.

Gingrich was still hoping Monday that he could turn in a strong performance at the polls.

"We really need your help," he implored a crowd of a few hundred in Tampa. "We need you on Facebook, we need you Twittering if that's what you do, we need you with email, we need you calling people, and I know many of you have been calling."

Gingrich touched on an array of topics: the Keystone pipeline project, an embassy in Jerusalem, the use of Sharia law in U.S. courts. He called the health care law, which has drawn the wrath of Catholic bishops for its birth-control provisions, "an attack on religion."

The crowd waited nearly two hours before Gingrich arrived late but were greeted by Michael Reagan, son of the late president, and former candidate Herman Cain. Reagan defended Gingrich's credentials as an ally of Ronald Reagan.

"I've known Newt for a long period of time in my life," the son said. "And I've kind of been taken aback by what some people say about Newt, that he wasn't there. And I think to myself, the people who are saying he wasn't there . . . weren't there."

Cain told the crowd to remember that Gingrich had also trailed in the South Carolina primary, which he ultimately won. He invoked the name of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and challenged them to "crank it up a notch" to get out the vote.

"There are a lot of undecided voters right here in Florida, just like there were a lot of undecided voters in South Carolina, just like there are a lot of undecided voters across this country, and over the next several months, you and I are going to help those undecided voters decide on Newt Gingrich," Cain said.

Betty McConkey, 67, a former Cain supporter from Wesley Chapel, was among the undecided voters who showed up to hear Gingrich. She felt a little conflicted because she also admires Mike Huckabee, and she had heard that he supported Rick Santorum. She wasn't sure what Gingrich would need to say to get her vote.

The issue that comes first in her mind? "Putting Americans to work," she said. Then she added, "I said Americans."

Theresa Johnson, 72, a retired bookkeeper who lives in the Clearwater area, said she thinks Gingrich is the only candidate who can beat President Barack Obama. She laments that so many people voted early by absentee ballot.

Some did it even before the South Carolina debate, she said. How could they have made up their minds so early?

Many had in Dunedin. But Romney, too, was leaving nothing to chance. Despite his confidence, he turned immediately to Gingrich.

"He's not feeling very excited these days," Romney mocked. "I know, it's sad. He's been flailing around, trying to go after me for one thing or another. You just watch him and you shake your head. He's been kind of painfully revealing to watch. I think the reason he isn't doing so well is because of those last two debates."

Romney and his allies have buried Gingrich in ads in Florida, airing nearly 13,000 ads on broadcast television through Wednesday, according to an analysis of Kantar Media data by the Wesleyan Media Project. On Gingrich's side: 200 spots.

Democrats circulated the study Monday, seeking to frame Romney's expected victory as one earned through money, not message.

The two other candidates vying for the nomination, Santorum and Ron Paul, did not campaign in Florida on Monday.

Times staff writers Adam C. Smith and Jodie Tillman contributed to this report.

   
Comments
‘What do we want? Apology!’ Hundreds of Haiti supporters protest near Mar-a-Lago

‘What do we want? Apology!’ Hundreds of Haiti supporters protest near Mar-a-Lago

Sun Sentinel (TNS)PALM BEACH — About 500 Haitian-Americans and their supporters used the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to protest derogatory comments President Donald Trump reportedly made about immigrants from majority-black countries."What do we w...
Updated: 6 hours ago

U.S. forced to renew DACA permits as furor over Trump’s immigration slur persists

Los Angeles Times (TNS)WASHINGTON — The Trump administration, under court order, said it would resume taking applications to renew temporary protections from deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the country illegall...
Published: 01/14/18
GOP senator: Reports of Trump’s ‘s---hole’ comments a ‘gross misrepresentation’

GOP senator: Reports of Trump’s ‘s---hole’ comments a ‘gross misrepresentation’

A Republican senator is insisting that President Donald Trump did not use a vulgar term in referring to African countries during a closed-door meeting on immigration that he and five other senators attended last week.Georgia Sen. David Perdue called ...
Published: 01/14/18
Ethics panel advised to deny legal fees in unfounded Ken Hagan complaint

Ethics panel advised to deny legal fees in unfounded Ken Hagan complaint

A Florida Ethics Commission staff attorney has drafted an order denying Hillsborough County’s request for reimbursement for attorney fees from one of four citizens who filed unsustained ethics complaints against Commissioner Ken Hagan.The commission ...
Published: 01/12/18
Haitians in Tampa Bay area react to Trump’s slur:

Haitians in Tampa Bay area react to Trump’s slur: "It’s very racist"

Fadia Richardson had just finished dinner Thursday when she sat down to watch the news and saw a report she didn’t want to believe.In an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers to discuss immigration policy earlier in the day, President Donald Trump repor...
Published: 01/12/18
Sen. Durbin says Trump said ‘hate-filled things’

Sen. Durbin says Trump said ‘hate-filled things’

WASHINGTON — A senator present at a White House immigration meeting says President Donald Trump used vulgar language to describe African countries, saying he "said these hate filled things and he said them repeatedly." Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois D...
Published: 01/12/18
Trump denies he used vulgarity to describe African countries

Trump denies he used vulgarity to describe African countries

WASHINGTON — In bluntly vulgar language, President Donald Trump questioned Thursday why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "sh--hole countries" in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, ...
Published: 01/12/18
Africa startled by Trump’s ‘extremely offensive’ comments on immigrants

Africa startled by Trump’s ‘extremely offensive’ comments on immigrants

JOHANNESBURG — Africans woke up on Friday to find President Donald Trump had finally taken an interest in their continent. It wasn’t what people had hoped for.Using vulgar language, Trump on Thursday questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigran...
Published: 01/12/18
Hillsborough Republicans off to a rocky start in 2018

Hillsborough Republicans off to a rocky start in 2018

The Hillsborough County Republican Party is having a shaky start to election year 2018. Chairman Deborah Tamargo has been ousted over a seemingly petty squabble that reflects the long-standing division between East Hillsborough conservatives and esta...
Published: 01/12/18
Clearwater City Council Candidate Tom Keller says he’s a voice for the ordinary resident

Clearwater City Council Candidate Tom Keller says he’s a voice for the ordinary resident

Editor’s note: Ahead of the March 13 election, the Tampa Bay Times is publishing profiles on Clearwater City Council candidates for Seat 4 today. Profiles on candidates for Seat 5 will appear next week.CLEARWATER — Tom Keller is the first one to admi...
Published: 01/12/18