Early voting began here January 15th and absentee ballots were being mailed long before that. The positive news is that more people are voting and that’s a good thing. The bad news is that more people may have been voting for Thompson (who dropped out) or for Rudy (before his patriotic television ads were challenged by the heavy run of economic spots by Romney or the case for tighter spending and military experience was made by McCain). The Giuliani camp claims they know they have captured large numbers of the early voters. I am leery of that claim. Only time will tell, but my guess is Rudy will need those early votes if he has any chance of winning, because his numbers are steadily decreasing while Romney’s, McCain’s and Huckabee’s are increasing. And be careful not to underestimate Mike Huckabee’s strength here in Florida (full disclosure: I am a Huckabee supporter). Social conservatives are always underestimated in polls here because they don’t like to talk with pollsters, especially in the panhandle area of our state.
Observers should not forget that Florida is the first true test of the pure Republican majority. Florida is a closed primary state, unlike all the other contests thus far. That means only Republicans can vote. None of the candidates can benefit this time from independent outsiders—and I prefer it this way. It will be a true test of McCain’s current momentum play (given the displeasure expressed by some in the party with his past positions on controversial issues), while Romney’s more traditional Republican themes will be augmented by his strong Florida campaign staff that has given him the clear organizational advantage. Many on Romney’s team are well-connected former Jeb Bush staff and campaign members—and they know our state. And then there is that Huckabee phenomenon, boasting the largest and best “unorganized” grassroots effort in the state. I am sensing it is shaping up into a three-way race, but I still wouldn’t totally count out Rudy just yet. He’ll have one last debate opportunity to reach out to transient New York voters, uh, I mean Florida voters (and we hope they only vote in one state primary).
It’s worth pointing out that the three leading Republicans in the state—Governor Charlie Crist, U. S. Senator Mel Martinez and former Governor Jeb Bush—have not endorsed any candidates. Of the three, I believe the highly-respected Jeb Bush would be the most influential, should he weigh in with an endorsement at the last minute.
If John McCain wins, given the closed primary environment, he would have proved himself without the help of independents and his momentum going into Super Tuesday might be unstoppable. If Mitt Romney wins, Florida would have continued his campaign. He will have to move fast to compete in a final showdown with McCain in key states where McCain is strong, such as New York, California and Texas. For Rudy Giuliani, he must win to stay in the hunt. If he loses, Florida would have put the nails in his coffin. And Mike Huckabee, good old Mike, just might surprise many in Florida, given the three-way split between McCain, Romney and Giuliani, and take one step closer to the Oval Office while making a steady case for the V. P. spot.
The Florida Republicans have achieved their goal. We will set the national stage for Super Tuesday. We may even launch the final momentum play for Election 2008.
When the final results are in Tuesday night, we hope and pray that, after careful consideration, we Floridians have given America our very best advice.