Republican voter turnout in Florida primary speaks volumes

Published Feb. 5, 2012

Turnout in last week's Republican presidential primary dropped more than 14 percent from Florida's 2008 GOP primary. Part of the reason for the stronger turnout four years ago was a property tax relief initiative that drew voters who were not especially interested in the presidential contest. Also, any lack of enthusiasm for the candidates this year might be because of the 10 days of overwhelmingly negative TV ads.

Mitt Romney trounced Newt Gingrich in Florida, of course, but those turnout numbers show one bright spot for the former House speaker: Turnout actually increased from four years ago in the mostly rural, North Florida counties won by Gingrich, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who runs the United States Elections Project to track election data.

Romney is winning, McDonald said, "but the fact that he's not really lighting a fire for these voters should be a warning sign for the campaign."

Mack's missed votes

Rep. Connie Mack was in Miami on Friday picking up the endorsement of Jeb Bush Jr., the ex-governor's son. But Mack, R-Fort Myers, was also missing from Washington — and not just on Friday.

His House attendance has plummeted over the past month as he begins the Senate campaign, including a stint traveling with Romney last week. Of the 33 votes this year, Mack has missed 29, according to records.

Many of the missed votes are on minor things.

But Mack missed a vote to repeal part of "Obamacare," freeze congressional pay, crack down on ultralight plane drug smuggling (passed in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords), modify discretionary spending limits and modernize air traffic safety.

Mack did make a vote on Jan. 18 to express disapproval with a debt ceiling increase.

Missed votes have long been an issue for politicians on the campaign trail. In 2006, Jim Davis got hammered for his missed votes while he was running for governor. The voting record was a staple of Charlie Crist's TV ads, which showed an empty chair careening across Capitol Hill and described Davis as a "do nothing" congressman. John McCain faced the same issue in his run for president.

Mack spokesman David James: "We knew when Florida moved its presidential primary we would miss some votes early on this year, and so far that's included several Democrat amendments and largely procedural matters. The far bigger task for Floridians is stopping Barack Obama from taking our country any further in the wrong direction. That fight is usually in Washington, but for the past two weeks it has been in Florida by ensuring a win for Mitt Romney."

Bundlers for Obama

The Obama campaign periodically discloses its top fundraising bundlers — people who gather loads of contributions for the campaign — and some new Tampa Bay names made the latest list last week: Tampa businessman Mark Sena, husband of former City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the campaign; Nadine Smith of St. Petersburg, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Florida, raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the president; Tampa developer Joel Cantor, who hosted Michelle Obama at his Davis Islands home in October, raised between $200,000 and $500,000.

Unlike the Bush-Cheney campaigns, GOP candidates declined to disclose their top bundlers.

Gingrich challenge

As Gingrich's campaign encourages a challenge to Florida's winner-take-all primary, it's worth noting the difference between today and before the primary. Last weekend the Buzz specifically asked Gingrich if he shared the concern of some RNC members that Florida's delegates should be awarded proportionally by vote totals instead of winner-take-all.

"I'm not going to get involved in an RNC procedural fight," Gingrich said after services at Idlewild Baptist Church in north Tampa. "They've got to decide what they want to do. I'll play by whatever the rules are that are given to us." The rules that were given to them were winner-take-all, though the interpretation of those rules could be challenged before the convention.

"Floridians understand that this is nothing more than a case of political sour grapes," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "Speaker Gingrich is still reeling from his overwhelming defeat in Florida, and he is desperately searching for a way to revive his floundering campaign. Quite frankly, it's sad to watch."

Rubio's research

Sen. Marco Rubio isn't running for anything right now, but that didn't stop him from spending more than $20,000 on a top national research firm to check out his own vulnerabilities. The website BuzzFeed reports that Rubio spent $21,421 for "research consulting" from MB Public Affairs, a well-regarded firm based in Sacramento, Calif.

A Rubio aide confirmed that the senator wanted to be ready for questions on things like his student loans and family history.

Mack interviewed

Today's guests for Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. are Mack and Bay News 9 political analysts Betty Castor and Chris Ingram, who will recap the Florida GOP primary election.

Times staff writer Alex Leary and the Associated Press contributed to this week's Buzz.