"It's the whole political process," says Sue Gibbs, a retired school teacher, adjusting new pins on her colorful elephant hat, ahead of Newt Gingrich's rally in Tampa, Florida. Gibbs moved from Washington D.C. to Tampa, and she feels it was a smart move. "I am so lucky and so blessed and so blessed to be involved - had I retired in the North it wouldn't happen - but they are all coming to Florida! I don't necessarily like all the candidates or all they do, and I'd like them to be fair and nice." But even at the kindergarten, she says, children do not necessarily get along. "We are not dumb and stupid," she warns them. "We look and listen - we just want to make very educated guess and chose the right person this time to the White House."
Professor Susan MacManus from the University of South Florida says that in the past national security issues were important in Florida elections. However, this time around it is all about the economy. "The unemployment rate here is 9.9%, higher than the national average; we are still in the top five states with the foreclosures…baby boomers feel their retirement plans might just get flushed."
MacManus thinks Newt Gingrich's campaign might have misfired on the civility issue. "It's very important for seniors in Florida - the same aggressiveness that served him well in South Carolina seems not to work here." But it's impossible to give up on Florida. Without Florida, it's hard to win the elections, and it's impossible to win the elections without the independent voters.
"When you look at his record, I don't think Romney is more electable than Newt," says Mary Gaulden, who decorated her T-shirt with pins, including one that read "Obama for former President." "He is Christian conservative. He has the experience that we need in the Oval office, he was there with Reagan, he was there with Bush, and he knows how to get things done."
Mary holds a sign popular these days at the Republican candidates’ respective rallies: "Don't believe liberal media." "I don't believe it", she says. "And I feel they really sucked to Newt". Besides, she says, he supports Israel, "and we love Israel!"
The class war is full on display here, with people saying that "Newt is for the people, and Romney is for the rich."
"I feel that Romney sold his soul to the devil because he has lots of money, and Gingrich is not going to do that", says Maria Oddo, who says she works at cleaning houses and is not eligible for food stamps because she makes "50 dollars more a year". "I hope all the Catholics and Evangelicals fight for Gingrich so we can take our country back."
She says she can't sell her house, and she can't find another job because "I am too old, but even our kids have difficulty to find a job."
She says she doesn't know what she will do if Gingrich loses the primaries. "Romney reminds me of Obama, and we don't want four more years of Obama in the White House,” she says.
Richard Marko, an immigrant from Slovenia, agrees. He came from Washington to support Gingrich in Florida, because "these are crucial primaries." When asked about Gingrich's approach to immigration, he says proudly: "I am an immigrant. I came here with nothing, was hungry at the end of the work day, and now I have a consulting business of my own. But I happen to know what socialism is about, and we won't let the country go there."
Residents of Florida were bombarded ahead of the vote with ads - one of them claiming former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich likes namedropping of Ronald Reagan, while Reagan only spoke about him once, and negatively. To confront such attacks, Gingrich brings Reagan's son, Michael, to speak to his supporters. "Those who say Newt wasn't there with my father - I think they weren't there," he says.
Another supporter of Gingrich, who excites the rally attendants, is the former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who says that "we need to stop the stupid people who are destroying this country." He calls the audience to ignore polls: "Liberals want you to think the game is over, but it only begins". Cain also expounded on why he supports Gingrich. "I didn't ask for anything, he didn't offer anything, my only expectation is to be able to help him to win the nomination and the White House and all. It's difficult for some people to comprehend that not everyone has a political objective or political motive when they want to help to save this country".
Newt himself brought up another poll in which he and Romney are tied with 35%-35%. And among other things, including his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Gingrich adds a new line: as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney eliminated serving kosher food for the Jewish elderly. "You just don't do that," Gingrich says.
The evening before, in the city of Hialeah, Florida, which holds record in America for percentage of residents for whom Spanish is the mother tongue, Mitt Romney's campaign bus arrived at the "Casa Marin" restaurant. After several months of courting Republican voters, Mitt Romney's campaign events run smoothly, like a well-rehearsed show. The music is turned on, the crowd cheers, the doors of the bus open. The first part of the event, which includes a set of speakers who introduce Romney, are conducted almost exclusively in Spanish. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen switches to English, it seems, only when she needs to make a point to America’s enemies - "which are many" - what a big difference Romney will make in their lives as president. Furthermore, they don’t forget to stress Romney’s "great pro-life credentials" who they say is a "new believer, for a while now, in pro-life cause."
Mitt Romney introduces his “sweetheart” Ann Romney, and his wife speaks about the importance of the family to this very familial community.
Then, Romney’s son Craig, the youngest of five, speaks in Spanish, explaining that his father "doesn't know Spanish, but he speaks the language of economy, liberty, and he knows how to the restore greatness of this country." Even Romney's grandchild, Parker, gets to say "hola" to the crowd. Then there are handshakes, and Ann Romney patiently signing autographs while her husband tours the restaurant.
Most of the audience members are Cuban Americans, but there are some black yarmulkes in the crowd as well.
Chaim Wielgul says he shook Romney's hand. He is not 100% sure who he is going to vote for, but he says he is impressed. "Romney is a great man - he believes in family values, and most importantly, he knows how to run the economy. Wielgul, who is Jewish, believes that Romney will stand firm behind Israel. “He'll defend us, like most of the Republican candidates, except for Ron Paul. Romney is for strength, and strength always wins."
He thinks American Jews are stuck with Democrats because of past policies, and says Jewish Republicans have their work cut out for them. "Look at what this president is doing. He has put some nice Jews in office, but he doesn't care about us enough."
There is one unusual attendant at the rally - Daniel Najman, an Orthodox Jew and Ron Paul supporter. He says he dislikes Obama the most - but he'd vote for him before he votes for Mitt Romney because at least Obama is "consistently left about socialized medicine and big government," while Romney is deceptive, claiming to be on the right, but acts the same as Obama. What appeals to Najman in Ron Paul are his positions on Israel. "He is considered to be anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish, but he wants to cut all foreign aid, including money to Israel. I've spoken many times to Israelis about the "two states final solution" and they say it's dangerous but they can't reject it because of America. If there is no aid, there are equal relations. He was one of the few Congressmen back in 80's that defended Israel's right to attack Iraqi reactor."
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