With Mitt Romney winning 2012 straw polls left and right, it’s difficult to watch his visit to Florida without entertaining the possibility that the stump speeches are an overture, and that the full symphony will take the stage next year.
Romney spoke to a packed restaurant north of Tampa with Marco Rubio on Friday afternoon, and then rallied with gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott and several hundred retirees. Intermittent suggestions for a Romney presidential run were shouted from the crowd — and from the stage.
“So how many of you think Mitt ought to be the next president?” Scott asked to wild applause.
“How many of you think he should have been president two years ago?” he asked, to even wilder applause.
That Romney lost the GOP nomination is due, in large part, to Florida. Going into the Sunshine State primary, John McCain and Romney had each won key victories — New Hampshire and South Carolina for the former, Michigan and Nevada for the latter. Clinching Florida’s 57 delegates transformed McCain into the certified front-runner, just as Super Tuesday hit.
It was close. McCain edged Romney 36-31, with Giuliani and Huckabee battling for third. Endorsements from Florida’s Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist likely helped push McCain over the top. Nine days after the Florida primary, following lackluster Super Tuesday results, Romney withdrew from the race.
It must have smarted, and not just because he had spent north of $45 million of his own money. After an unsuccessful run at Ted Kennedy’s seat in 1994, Romney told his brother, “I never want to run for something again unless I can win.”
Next time, though — if there is a next time — things might be different.
Several polls show Romney leading the pack of 2012 presidential contenders. He certainly played the part on Friday, working the crowd into cheers, boos and laughs.
“Barack Obama, he was so confident of his future, he’s fit in 40 rounds of golf so far,” Romney said. “Mind you, I’m probably happier when he’s listening to his caddy than when he’s listening to his economic advisers. … Someone said to me the other day, ‘Their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a JetBlue flight attendant.’”
And a few minutes later: “Who would have guessed we’d look back on the Jimmy Carter years as the good old days?”
Coupled with the joking, smiling and hand-shaking came pointed criticism of the Obama administration.
“We understood, when President Obama ran for office he said that he was going to fundamentally change the way that Washington works. He misled us. He’s trying to fundamentally change the way America works, and we will not let him,” Romney said. “He went around the world apologizing for America. No nation has done more to lift people from poverty than this nation — our free enterprise system has lifted billions out of poverty — and no nation has shed more blood on behalf of others, to bring liberty to men and women around the world, than this nation.”
A year and change is left before Florida’s 2012 primary, which leaves plenty of time for things to evolve. If the country doesn’t dramatically emerge from its economic slump, though, Romney’s record as a businessman and job-creator could play an important role. In January, 2008, media were sounding the alarm that Florida’s jobless rate of 4.7 percent was the highest level since 2004. It now sits at 11.7 percent — the fifth-worst figure in the nation. The economic message Romney delivered during the last primary would seem doubly potent.
Mitt Romney Working the Crowd:
Mitt Romney Stumps for Marco Rubio:
Mitt Romney Stumps for Rick Scott: