Jilted at P5, Should Florida Republicans Reward Mitt Romney?
Around the State
Mitt Romney keeps "winning" debates -- or so the pundits say -- but should he win Florida?
Less than four months away from the state's presidential primary, Team Romney is building an aura of inevitability around his candidacy. This week's endorsement by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was another indication that the Bush wing of the party is falling into line and the fix is in.
But what plays in Jersey won't necessarily fly in Florida. Remember when Romney skipped this state's Presidency 5 straw poll? Despite backing from some key state Republicans (many of whom had just jumped off Tim Pawlenty's broken-down bandwagon), Romney finished a distant third to Herman Cain.
For all his money and organization, Romney's poll numbers are stuck in the 20 percent range nationally. His double-digit lead in New Hampshire owes to his residency in Massachusetts, and Cain is in a statistical tie with him in Iowa.
The setup is establishment-versus-grass-roots. Apparently Romney and the party brass are betting that the GOP's next-guy-in-line procession will prevail again this time.
But the case can be made that this nomination process should be different. Republicans saw what happened in 2008, when a middle-of-the-roader like John McCain was beaten by Barack Obama. Most sensible people understand that Democrats see Romney as a most beatable foe in 2012.
Romney's notorious flip-flopping and his continued embrace of Romneycare make him easy pickings for Obama. Word has already leaked out about Romney advisers meeting with Obama staffers early on to discuss health-care plans.
Contrast this political-insider behavior with Cain, who, except for a stint on the Kansas City Federal Reserve Board, is the ultimate outsider.
At Tuesday night's Bloomberg debate, Cain vigorously defended his 9-9-9 plan, which would make over the U.S. tax code. His scheme is starting to take hits, as expected, but 9-9-9 is at least original, daring and easy to understand. It's the antithesis of Romney's 59-point blueprint, which is derivative, boring and defies a nonbureaucratic explanation.
Romney is the prodigy of a well-heeled former Michigan governor who himself was briefly a GOP presidential hopeful. Cain is the son of working-class parents.
"I was po' before I was poor," Cain said Tuesday in one of the best lines of the night.
His rise up the corporate ladder earns respect in Republican circles, and his humble beginnings give him the street cred to take on the Wall Street occupiers crying for more redistribution of wealth.
Naturally, Cain's climb in the opinion polls is starting to generate some blowback from his rivals. Michele Bachmann harrumphed that 9-9-9 "isn't a jobs plan, it's a tax plan."
Rich Santorum, a one-term senator from Pennsylvania, said it had no chance of passage.
Both may be right, but, at this juncture, neither Bachmann nor Santorum has a shot at the nomination.
Like Marco Rubio, Cain's compelling personal story is the authentic embodiment of the American dream. His parents, Luther and Lenora Cain, made a living the only way black people could in the '40s and '50s. Luther held down three jobs, including being a chauffeur; Lenora cleaned houses.
Republicans were beaten by the racial and cultural impressionism of Barack Obama in 2008. Since then, Obama has proven himself manifestly incapable of leading, or even understanding how markets actually work.
Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson -- heck, the entire GOP field -- have a better grasp of this country's economic problems. But Romney plays to the smarmy stereotype of a privileged corporatist-cum-politician who is too slick by half.
Tea partiers and rank-and-file Republicans were not impressed by Romney at P5. By jetting back North before the straw poll, he appeared more interested in Michigan voters than Florida's.
Perhaps Romney sensed he was going to lose here, and wanted to avoid embarrassment. While Cain stood and fought, what does Romney's absence say about his prospects next November?
If the Florida straw poll counted for anything, and if the Sunshine State is truly the bellwether for the nation, the GOP establishment ignores these concerns at its peril.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or (772) 801-5341.