It's been a month since we've seen a credible Florida poll of the Republican presidential primary, but to date Mitt Romney has yet to crack 30 percent support among likely primary voters. The biggest question as the Jan. 31 primary approaches is how much voters in New Hampshire on Tuesday and South Carolina on Jan. 21 cull the field.
If Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman are still campaigning after South Carolina, Romney will be well positioned to win Florida's 50 delegates and probably will be unstoppable on his march to the nomination. It could be a whole new race, however, if the field thins and somebody can consolidate the anti-Romney vote.
So who is best prepared to compete in the megastate of Florida? Unquestionably, Romney, who has the money and organization and is already airing television ads. Republicans receiving absentee ballots have gotten mailers attacking Gingrich from the Restore Our Future political committee helping Romney.
By the way, we hear Attorney General Pam Bondi might be jumping on the Romney team soon.
Meanwhile, Santorum is barely starting to organize in Florida since his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses last week made him a serious contender. We came across a recent Santorum campaign email to grass roots party activists underscoring how much work he has ahead:
"My name is Jesse Biter and I'm the Chair of Florida for Rick Santorum for President. I have spent the last few months raising money and adding volunteers to our cause. Currently, we have over 110 volunteers in Florida but they are mostly grouped together in the more populated areas and most of them aren't interested in leading. I am looking to find county chairs across this great state to help lead this effort."
GOP heft for Gingrich
Gingrich has added a couple of big GOP names to his Florida campaign: former Attorney General and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum and former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty are the new co-chairmen of the state effort.
"Newt Gingrich is the one who has the most capability to challenge Barack Obama," McCollum told Buzz, citing Gingrich's debate skills and Romney's record of supporting health care mandates in Massachusetts.
"I think Gingrich will do very well in Florida and will have a terrific organization," said McCollum, adding a caveat: "He is going to have to do well in South Carolina."
Perry's on the phone
Recorded messages from Gov. Perry are hitting the households of Florida Republicans who requested absentee ballots:
"Hi, this is Gov. Rick Perry calling absentee ballot voters in Florida to tell you I'm in this race to win it and to ask for your vote. Floridians can send a message to Washington: We're tired of Obama, sky-high unemployment, too-big-to-fail bailouts. Our party's the conservative party and we should govern conservatively. I'm a proven conservative in the Florida tradition of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. As president, I'll protect life and defend traditional marriage. I'm proud to be a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and I'll appoint judges that strictly interpret the Constitution, not legislate from the bench. As governor of Texas, we lead the nation in job creation and as president I'll get this country working again. This is a call to arms for all conservatives. Please vote for me, Rick Perry. When you cast your absentee ballot, together we can repeal Obamacare and take a wrecking ball to Washington, D.C. Thank you and God bless you."
Mack's still upbeat
The Republican U.S. Senate campaign of U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, sent supporters a strategy memo last week brimming with confidence.
"Every public poll that has been released has Connie with a significant lead in the Republican Primary. The latest poll by TelOpinion Research shows him with a massive lead. Moreover, that poll and others show other candidates continuing to collapse. In fact, one of our opponents is now stuck at between 1 and 2 percent, despite having been on the stump around the state for well over a year," wrote campaign manager Jeff Cohen. "Publicly released general election poll results are also very encouraging. One poll shows Connie ahead of Senator Bill Nelson. When looking at data compiled by Real Clear Politics (RCP), Senator Nelson is only ahead of Connie by a few percentage points — a very dangerous place for a two-term Senate incumbent."
The memo said Mack would meet or exceed his goal of raising at least $500,000 in the past three months.
Challenge to debate
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Adam Hasner, struggling to gain traction in the primary, last week challenged his opponents to 10 debates.
"While we have much in common, there are also real differences between us on important issues like government spending, immigration reform, the sanctity of life, and the best way to reform the failed political system in Washington," Hasner wrote to George LeMieux and Connie Mack. (There are two others in the race, Craig Miller and Mike McCalister, but Hasner said he hoped the state GOP would seek their inclusion.)