Tampa, Fla. — Two years ago, Marco Rubio shocked the political world when he spooked then-governor Charlie Crist out of the Senate GOP primary — and out of the Republican party.
Todd Harris, a veteran GOP consultant, served as Rubio’s strategist during that tumultuous race, and he remains Rubio’s senior political adviser. In an interview with National Review Online, he says the Florida primary, with its complex mass-media demands, is still Romney’s to lose.
“Regardless of the results out of South Carolina, if I had to bet money, I would bet that Mitt Romney wins Florida,” Harris says.
But that doesn’t mean Newt Gingrich is doomed.
“Florida has a reputation for being the ultimate swing state, but its politics are dominated by conservatives,” Harris says. For instance, he sees potential for Gingrich to snag the Panhandle, “which, politically, might as well be part of Georgia or Alabama,” or the “southwestern region along the Gulf, which is heavily populated by conservative, Midwestern retirees.”
The decisive battleground, he says, will be “the critical I-4 corridor, down the middle, which is where elections are won and lost in Florida,” encompassing the Tampa and Orlando markets.
“It’s the swing region of the swing state in the country,” Harris says. “It’s also very expensive.” Romney has already aired ads there, plus Spanish-language spots in Miami. Gingrich, he says, could take to the air in the Panhandle or Jacksonville — conservative bastions both — but to win, he will need to find a way to compete with Romney statewide. Anything less, Harris says, won’t be enough.