by Ted Manna
AR Political Correspondent
September 22, 2011
THURSDAY'S FOX NEWS DEBATE COULD CHANGE THE CAMPAIGN PICTURE
ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 22, 2011 -- For the second time in two weeks, Republican presidential contenders will clash tonight as the Florida State Republican Party kicks off its three-day Presidential V Conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando with a Fox News nationally televised debate. The so-called P5 wraps up Saturday with a straw poll whose winner has historically gone on to win the Republican primary.
With a Faith & Freedom Coaliton Rally scheduled just before Thursday's debate, and an all-day Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, this weekend promises to be the biggest political event in the campaign besides the primary and the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa - and the Nov. 6, 2012, election.
The candidates will be courting nearly 5,000 of Florida's most influential Republican activists and leaders in a state whose 29 electoral votes are considered a must-win for Republicans in the general election.
"Whoever wins the straw poll will win the nomination," predicted Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Fox News' Fox & Friends recently. "Whoever wins the Republican nomination will be our next President."
"Presidency V will give the candidates an opportunity to bring their message directly to the people of Florida," wrote Fla. party phairman Dave Bitner on the RPOF Web site, "while allowing voters to participate in a poll that has historically predicted the eventual Republican nominee for President."
Every winner of the RPOF Straw Poll has gone on to win the Republican primary - Ronald Reagan in '79, George H. W. Bush in '87 and Dob Dole in '95. Republican campaigns, mainly at the behest of Arizona Senator John McCain, demurred from holding the poll in 2007.
This time, all the major candidates will be on the ballot, although former Gov, Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann will not contest the vote. Romney cited his focus on caucuses and primaries, and Bachmann blamed limited resources, and neither was willing to risk a top-tier perception with a poor showing.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, now in his third presidential campaign, continues to vex the to- tier candidates, easily beating them all in last Saturday's California Straw Poll with 45% of the vote; he came in a close second to Tea Party darling Bachmann in Iowa, even though most polls don't give him a ghost of a chance to win the nomination.
Thursday's debate will offer the candidates yet anotheropportunity to expose each others' weaknesses while allowing them to voice more malevolent maxims like "President Zero" and "class warfare," aggressive rhetoric that make President Barack Obama's policies seem like products of a hypothetical lunatic left..
According to the latest polls, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who up to now has led a charmed political career, maintains a slight lead in the Republican nomination smack-down over Romney. A Miami Herald poll of 1,400 self-described likely voters put Romney and Perry in a dead heat, however.
And a St. Petersburg Times Insider poll of 100 of Florida's sharpest political minds see Romney as a stronger card to beat Obama in Florida in the general election.
Divided on who will win the Florida Primary, Romney or Perry, 80% of Florida's most experienced political pros think Perry will win the straw poll. The state's primary is crucially timed, fifth in the nation behind Nevada and New Hampshire, both perceived Romney victories, and Iowa and South Carolina, leaning toward Perry.
Romney, capitalizing on a Sept. 9 CNN poll showing that 72% of voters disagree with the characterization that Social Security is a "failure" or a "monstrous lie" won't let go of Perry's "Ponzi scheme" comments and his apparent belief that Social Security is "unconstitutional."
Count on Romney to continue to pound on Perry for an answer on that issue, hoping for either a "flip-flop" moment like the ones that plagued his own 2008 Presidential campaign, or a continuing stance that will alienate Florida's 65+ voters.
Bachmann, with lagging poll numbers, will continue to offer shifting tableaux of beneficent bromides to her base, stressing her opposition to "crony capitalism" - a reference to Perry's executive order mandating vaccinations with a drug manufactured by Merck Pharmaceutical, a $5,000 contributor to his campaign.
A Web video released last week by the Bachmann campaign also higlighted her opposition to parts of Obama's health care plan.
"Whether it's Obamacare or Perrycare, I oppose any governor or President who mandates a family's health care choices," Bachmann said in the video, echoing her stance in the second Presidential debate in Tampa two weeks ago.
All the debate participants, including second and third tier candidates former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will most likely voice their displeasure with Obama's recent jobs bill and his plan to pay for it in part by raisng taxes on the richest Americans, even though a Washngton Post/ABC News poll in July showed that 72% of Americans support raising taxes on those with incomes above $250,000.
"It's a mainstream position," declared Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg recently. "It's in fact where the great, great majority of the country is."
Republicans oppose this at their peril, because many perceive that it is patriotic for those who have more to do more. Democrats have always stressed equality and fairness, and have won many elections with that idea.
FDR got a wealth tax on the richest Americans in the Great Depression and former Pres. Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to raise taxes on the richest Americans - and got them from a Republican Congress.
Presidential campaigns are about building momentum, not specific ideas, and P5 will offer a prime opportunity to do that in a pivotal state.