Every two years, campaign professionals, political scientists and journalists gather in Gainesville for a valuable conference by the University of Florida's graduate program in political campaigning. The main takeaway from Friday's conference? The GOP faces enormous challenges, short term and long term, to retain its viability.
Between the Democrats' overwhelming advantage among voters under 30 and minorities, in social media and grass roots campaigning, experts agreed, the Republican Party has to work on not just the nuts and bolts of campaigning but the underlying message that's appealing to a shrinking segment of the electorate.
"Demographics are going to bury them if they don't change policies. It's not enough just to build a better mousetrap,'' said Seth McKee, a political scientist at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Republican pollster David Hill said the good news is that "adults" in the GOP understand the challenges, and "Floridians are very much at the forefront of the introspection and rethinking that's going on."
Former state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, gave a blistering critique of a party that moved far to the right and out of the mainstream, where legislative leaders take their agenda from special interest groups and right-wing think tanks rather than rank-and-file conservative voters.
"I truly believe the outcome in Florida by President (Barack) Obama was because a very lackadaisical group of Democratic voters was motivated by voter suppression. They believed something was being taken away from them," Dockery said. "(Legislative leaders) said it was about preventing voter fraud, when in fact it was about voter suppression."
Looking ahead to the 2014 governor's race, though, Democratic pollster Kevin Akins said Democrats can't take anything for granted. And as much as Democrats may want to harp on Gov. Rick Scott's role in leading a health care company that paid the largest Medicare fraud fine in American history, Akins said that message won't work.
"He's not a criminal and a crook. He's become an incumbent politician," Akins said. "You beat him when you talk about what his policies mean to the middle class."
The last poll by Akins' firm, Hamilton Campaigns, six weeks ago showed 42 percent of Florida voters approving of Scott's job performance and 56 percent disapproving.
Other polls have found Scott's approval ratings as low as in the 20 to 30 percent range, but Hamilton Campaigns has never found them so low.
Sen. Jack Latvala likes Gov. Rick Scott
Check out state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today. He has nothing but positive things to say about Florida's unpopular governor, and like most Republicans, dismisses the prospect of a GOP primary challenge for Scott.
"I like Rick Scott. I consider Rick Scott to be a friend of mine," Latvala said in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "People want to elect folks to political office who are newcomers, who aren't career politicians. Well, he's not a career politician, but if you elect people like that, you have to give them a little learning curve. I think he has learned, I think he is getting better all the time. There's always the possibility that if his poll numbers don't improve, someone could run against him, but I don't see anybody beating him in a primary."
Sen. Rubio blasted from the right
Sen. Marco Rubio has (again) launched an aggressive and impressive public relations campaign. This time it's over the immigration reform plan he and other senators have put together (though Rubio surprised some of his fellow Gang of Eight reformers with a Wall Street Journal op-ed he published without giving them a heads-up).
As a darling of conservatives, he's helped soften opposition from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and others.
But he certainly hasn't stopped it.
Here's a sampling of criticism from the right:
Ann Coulter: "For decades, Democrats have been working feverishly to create more Democrats by encouraging divorce (another Democratic voter!), illegitimacy (another Democratic voter!) and Third World immigration (another Democratic voter!).
"Strangely, some Republicans seem determined to create more Democratic voters, too. That will be the primary result of Sen. Marco Rubio's amnesty plan. … Rubio's bill is nothing but amnesty. It isn't even 'amnesty thinly disguised as border enforcement.' This is a wolf in wolf's clothing."
National Review's Rich Lowry: "Once an illegal immigrant gets 'probationary legal status,' he has jumped irrevocably ahead of all those poor saps back in their native countries who want to come to the U.S. but for whatever reason were unwilling or unable to break our immigration laws to do it. The formerly illegal immigrant is here in the U.S., while the poor sap is someplace else. Ask the sap whether or not that strikes him as preferential treatment. You'll find him somewhere in Bangalore or Guatemala City."
RedState's Erick Erickson: "The GOP was smart to put Marco Rubio as the face of the plan because many of us like him personally, support him still, and consequently don't want to seem critical.
"But the plan makes the actual problem of immigration more difficult to solve.
"Employers must prove that no American could be found to do the job the illegal alien would otherwise do. This is impossible, absurd, and turns employers to liars in the pursuit of running their business. The aggrieved can turn on the employers and potentially cost them all sorts of civil and criminal penalties.
"The most significant policy fiction is premised on the idea of reform. The plan does nothing to address the black market for unskilled, low cost migrant work. It does nothing to deal with the long delays in the present immigration system. It does nothing to actually solve our immigration problems, but hides behind the construct of 'comprehensive' reform. Along the way, it potentially adds more people to already overwhelmed entitlement programs, but then that too is another kicked can."