Romney looking strong in final hours of Florida primary

ORLANDO, Fla. — “Look, I told people at our Republican Club in Palm Beach before our straw poll, if you want to win in November, vote for Romney, but if you want to make a point, by all means, vote for any of the other three [Republican candidates].”

That’s what Palm Beach Gardens attorney Larry Casey — longtime GOP activist and formerly campaign manager to former Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) — told HUMAN EVENTS this morning, as Florida Republicans were going to the polls for the state’s Republican presidential primary.  For all of the enthusiasm displayed by supporters at Newt Gingrich’s weekend appearances in major GOP voting hubs such as Palm Beach (where he was formally endorsed by erstwhile rival Herman Cain) to Orlando (where he closed his primary campaign with a rally featuring Mike Reagan), he has never been able to overcome Romney’s advantage in party endorsements, on-the-ground organization and money. 

With most polls giving Romney at least a 10-percentage point advantage among likely voters over Gingrich, close advisers to the former House speaker, such as national campaign chairman Bob Walker and state campaign chairman Bob McCollum, spoke to HUMAN EVENTS less in terms of their man winning in the Sunshine State and more about where Gingrich would go from here.

Beginning with Romney’s weekend appearance in Pensacola – where he was flanked by John McCain, Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, and movie star Jon Voight – to his stops yesterday in Jacksonville and The Villages (where Romney sang America the Beautiful), the former Massachusetts governor has been drawing increasingly large crowds. When Romney spoke to HUMAN EVENTS last Thursday about how he would play offense with Gingrich in the televised debate that evening, he made no secret to us that he was uncomfortable with this “attack style” and preferred that attacks from the Republicans be focused on President Obama.

Now, as the confident front-runner in Florida, Romney didn’t mention Gingrich at all in his closing appearances and even his supporters were more focused on attacking Obama.  Voight, for example, said that the President was leading the U.S. down the road to “socialism.”

With early voting beginning in early January, nearly 600,000 GOPers have cast primary ballots before today. While many were cast at a time before Romney appeared the favorite in Florida, Larry Casey reminded us that “the ballots had printed the names of a lot of candidates who are now out of the race, such as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.”  That means that Gingrich does not get his desired scenario of going one-on-one with Romney in terms of absentee or early votes in Florida, since most were cast before he emerged as the leading “anti-Romney.”

Official figures from state Republican headquarters show that 503,111 were requested (up 199,132 from 2008) and 283,259 voted early (up 17,518 from 2008), for a total of 591,666 votes cast before today.  Veteran Florida political reporter Adam Smith has said that this suggests a turnout of 1.5 million to 2 million voters, the latter being roughly the turnout in the ’08 primary. That is impressive, since the ’08 turnout was helped by a popular property tax ceiling initiative that was on the same ballot.  This year, the only thing driving turnout is the primary itself.

When he spoke to us, Romney admitted he wanted endorsements from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Sen. Marco Rubio, but all were neutral. Scott playfully told reporters he voted for someone with “less than 10 letters in his name” (all four GOP hopefuls have less than ten letters in their names), while Bush remains neutral (“Jeb’s really focused on running himself in ’16,” said one Florida Bush-watcher) as does Rubio.

But as much as Romney wanted them, all signs today suggest he won’t need them.