As readers know, this syndicated column is based out of the Republican-rich "First Coast" of Florida and Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union. Since 2000, I have been polling and analyzing Florida races for broadcast names such as Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, as well as CNN and a host of others. We polled Florida for Politico in 2008 and correctly showed Barack Obama winning by 1 percentage point.
As of now, were I to speak to Mitt Romney (which for most mortals is an impossible feat), I would advise him that touring the state is not enough to beat President Obama. Florida is a state so large and diverse that it rarely chooses clear political "rock stars."
There have been exceptions to this rule. The late Lawton Chiles on the Democratic side was beloved by most of the state, both as a senator and governor. And Bill Clinton was so popular in South Florida that had the arrogant Gore campaign truly asked him to barnstorm that area (instead of a nearly invisible visit), Gore would likely have won the state and the presidency.
The Republican stars are few. Former Gov. Charlie Crist was -- until he flipped and flopped his way into obscurity -- proving that nice guys with no political grounding end up in last place. There really are only two Republican icons in the Sunshine State today -- the calm and cool veteran Jeb Bush and the fiery new U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Jeb is not his daddy's or his brother's Bush (not that they were bad -- I happen to think both were fine men and good leaders). But Jeb is the politically savvy, intellectually curious and in touch with the electronic world "senior" statesman who just has it all going for him. He pulls the reasonable Republicans back in line, and yes, he is still revered in the state.
Marco is the young man Floridians watched grow into a package of political energy and brilliance. I am telling you right now, and with all due deference to Paul Ryan, had Rubio been the nominee, Romney would have secured Florida, one of the big three swing states (along with Ohio and Virginia). Instead, he has secured nothing.
And a really non-hip GOP convention filled with images of white men of "senior status" (hey, I'm one of them) sent an uninspiring image to a barely interested electorate resulting in a non-bump in the polls.