Campaign Notes: Florida or bust

By John Barron

What is it they say about a week being a long time in politics?

Certainly Mitt Romney’s week started well: claiming two wins from two states, a lead heading towards Saturday’s South Carolina primary, and the endorsement of fellow moderate presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who bowed out after coming third in New Hampshire.

The Romney campaign could have been forgiven for starting to think ahead to the coming main game against Barack Obama.

But what’s this? A recount of the tens of thousands of handwritten ballots from the Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd found that Rick Santorum was now 34 votes ahead of Romney, not eight votes behind as declared on the night.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney: one from two.

The week dragged on.

Before he could face the potential humiliation of another debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry saw the writing on the wall on last week’s Freaky Thursday, suspended his campaign and became one of the few politicians to endorse Newt Gingrich.

Within an hour of Perry’s announcement, Newt’s former wife Marianne was reported to have told ABC her husband had asked for an “open marriage” to carry on an affair with now-spouse and potential First Lady of the United States, Calista.

It was shaping up to be a good day for Mitt…

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich

That was until that evening’s CNN debate, when Gingrich angrily denied the “open marriage” claim and chastised the debate moderator, earning, literally, a standing ovation.

Gingrich had risen again from his political grave, more zombie than messiah, perhaps, and seeking revenge not offering salvation.

Yet on Saturday in South Carolina, Newt was seen as the saviour of conservatives still unhappy with the “Massachusetts moderate” who seemed destined to lead their party into the fall.

They delivered a 40 per cent  to 28 per cent thumping of the frontrunner.

Mitt Romney: one from three.

All agree this is going to be a longer race than it appeared a week ago.

Mitt Romney’s inability to win over the majority of conservatives must be troubling for him and the Republican Party establishment as a whole, who quite clearly dread the prospect of Newt Gingrich as their presidential nominee.

Yet their favorite, Mitt Romney, is still having trouble connecting with voters, and a large part of that is because he’s so damned rich — a personal fortune of around $250 million.

The drum beat for Romney to disclose his tax returns had become deafening, and after saying it would come out in April — the same month as most of his predecessors chose to disclose theirs — the Romney campaign said it would be available this week.

And now all will be able to see how much money that money can make. If there’s one thing Americans hate more than politicians right now, it’s Wall Street greed — and Romney appears to belong to both clubs.


Still, as Florida beckons on January 31st, Romney must like his chances. After all, the Sunshine State is big and diverse; more favorable to moderates, and a place where a slick TV advertisement on high rotation is at least as important as a warm, dry handshake.

Mitt Romney is still the favourite this week, as he was seven days ago, and by a wide margin. But as a slugfest in Florida looms, Barack Obama’s prospects may have just increased a little too.

23 January 2012