Romney, McCain stump in Tampa

01/29/08 Seán Kinane
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Fifty-seven convention delegates are at stake in today’s winner-take-all Republican presidential primary in Florida. The two candidates who are leading in the polls, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, were both in downtown Tampa today.

Mitt Romney addressed about 120 of his supporters at the Tampa Convention Center. Despite the political baggage that might accompany supporting an unpopular president, Romney praised President George W. Bush’s state of the union address.

In the same building as the Romney rally, several hundred immigrants were getting their U.S. citizenships. Romney applauded these new citizens and said that the people who in the country illegally should, quote, “get back in line.” Romney criticized the Democratic presidential candidates for their views on government spending.

Romney said he wanted to cut taxes on the interest people earn on their savings, but he did not speak about the millions who can’t afford to put money into a savings account.

Borrowing a theme from the Barak Obama campaign, Romney said that there is a united America. At the same time Romney took a jab at the prospects of John Edwards, who is trailing both Obama and Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Romney refrained from mentioning his main Republican Rival, Sen. John McCain, by name, but he did criticize McCain’s position on economic issues.

“One of the candidates out there running for president said the economy is not his strong suit. Well, it’s my strong suit.”

State Representative Trey Traviesa, who introduced Romney, also criticized McCain. Traviesa said McCain worked too well with what he called “liberal Democrats.” As McCain arrived for a $1,000 per plate fundraiser lunch at the Tampa Club, WMNF asked for his reaction to these comments.

“I’m entertained. The kind of desperation and the negative stuff that Romney has done. He did it against Huckabee in Iowa, against me in New Hampshire. It seems that he doesn’t know any other way to campaign except to attack people and that doesn’t work. We know my record, we know my support for this country, and we know that he wanted to pull out of Iraq at the toughest times. That shows his inexperience and lack of judgment.”

McCain told WMNF he could win Florida’s primary.

“Yeah, I think we’re going to win if we can get a good turnout. Too early to tell, but I’m optimistic at I’ve been hearing, which is always unreliable.”

McCain has opposed the Bush administration’s policy of torturing prisoners, including the use of waterboarding. WMNF asked McCain whether Romney would use waterboarding if he became president.

Two other Republican candidates could be facing an early exit from the presidential race if they don’t fare well in Florida or in next week’s Super Tuesday primary in 22 other states. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee counted on good showings in Florida to boost their slumping campaigns. But polls show that both trail Romney and McCain.

Christian Coalition co-founder Ralph Reed was at the Romney rally. Reed said that Mike Huckabee’s presidential aspirations are not over yet.

“He [Huckabee] is going to be a factor as long as he stays in the race because he’s got a built-in base among social conservatives and self-identified evangelicals.”

Reed said that with Super Tuesday primaries coming up, candidates have to strategically pick where to campaign heavily. Voters will make similar political calculations, Reed predicted, by picking a candidate like Romney who has a good chance to win.

“If it’s a winner-take-all state, you do start to see voters engage in strategic voting. You know, they start to slide off candidates that don’t think they can compete. And even Mike [Huckabee], I guess about a week ago said, ‘Well, you know, if I go down to Florida and I, you know, and I spill my blood and I come one percent short, I don’t get a single delegate, so I’ve got to sort of play other places, too.’ And I think voters are doing that.”

Reed would not indicate how evangelicals would react if McCain becomes the frontrunner. Reed said he would have to examine the Florida primary’s exit polls to see whether Huckabee supporters had already jumped ship to support Romney. Reed said he has not yet endorsed any candidate and said he attended the Mitt Romney rally because he, “had another event.”

“He’s a good guy, I like him, but I’m not formally signed on with any campaign.”

Reed said evangelical voters are looking for the same things in presidential candidates as other voters.

Florida polling places are open until 7 p.m.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Mitt Romney

Sen. John McCain

Recent WMNF coverage of Romney

Recent WMNF coverage of McCain

Rep. Trey Traviesa

Ralph Reed cover story in The Nation

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