ORLANDO – In 2008, a lot of political commentators thought the Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, would have a natural advantage in Florida, considering the state’s large percentage of seniors and military retirees.
They certainly thought he had a clear advantage over the Democratic presidential contender, a former Chicago state senator and advocate for the party’s liberal wing, Barack Obama.
But those predictions turned out to be way off. Obama spent millions in Florida, set up a statewide network of supporters, and carried the state with 51 percent of the vote – the first Democrat to carry the state since Bill Clinton in 1996 and the best percentage given to a Democrat since Jimmy Carter carried Florida in 1976 with 53 percent.
But with the nation’s unemployment rate stuck at 9 percent and Florida among the nation’s hardest hit states economically, is the Obama campaign’s efforts to carry Florida again in 2012 a lost cause?
Political commentators Dick Batchelor, a Democrat, and Tico Perez, a Republican, say it would be premature to award the state to the GOP nominee in 2012 – although they have very different reasons for thinking that.
Batchelor said it’s not so much that Obama, who has approval ratings below 50 percent, will win, but that the GOP is showing every sign that they’re prepared to blow it.
“I made this prediction the other day, and some people lost their breath,” he said. “Barack Obama will not win this election – the Republicans will lose it.”
As the nation prepares for the start of the presidential election season in January, beginning with the Iowa Caucus on Jan. 3, Batchelor said the race for the Republican nomination was getting less suspenseful every day. The favorite of the party establishment, a former governor of Massachusetts, appeared to be solidifying his position as the front-runner, Batchelor said.
“I think Mitt Romney will be the eventual nominee,” he said.
But he predicted that Romney could remove Florida from the list of competitive states if he selects the state’s junior senator, Republican Marco Rubio, as his running mate.
“If Romney chooses Rubio, it’s a game changer,” Batchelor said. “Obama needs Florida. But if Romney is the nominee – and I think he will be – and Rubio is chosen as his running mate, Obama will spend a billion dollars here, but Florida will not be in play.”
If Romney doesn’t select Rubio, Batchelor said, the Sunshine State will be competitive, for a critical reason: a lot of conservatives don’t like the politician who, as Massachusetts’ governor, supported abortion rights, gay rights, gun control and a universal health care program that’s been compared to ObamaCare.
In most polls, Batchelor said, “Eighty percent of the people are not supporting Romney, and he needs to bring them over.”
But Perez predicted Romney, if he does become the nominee, would have no problem motivating fellow Republicans to turn out at the polls in November 2012.
“Most Republicans will vote for Charlie Sheen over Barack Obama,” he said. “Gathering Republican support behind the Republican nominee won’t be a problem.”
Obama is also in big trouble, he said, because voters not registered with either party generally disapprove of the job the president is doing.
“By fifty-seven percent to 34 percent, independents think Barack Obama is doing a bad job,” Perez said.
Still, Perez said it was too early to write off Obama’s re-election campaign, but not because the economy could improve or the Republicans might self-destruct. He predicted that a foreign policy issue might alter the race dramatically.
Perez said there was, in theory, the possibility that the state of Israel could invade Iran, based on reports that Iran was proceeding with efforts to develop nuclear weapons. If that happens, Perez said, the United States would almost certainly have to intervene on behalf of Israel.
“If we are in a huge war, all bets are off,” he said. “I still think there will be a regime change in this country, but I don’t know for sure. In the next six to nine months, our world can change.”
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