Republican voters in St. Pete weigh in on their presidential preference

01/31/12 Janelle Irwin
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Despite a brief surge after his win in South Carolina, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is now lagging behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by 14 points according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. Today, registered Republicans have their final chance to cast their votes for the eventual nominee in a state that is expected to be winner takes all.

“Yes, this morning I voted for Romney.”

Mary Patricia McLain cast her vote at The Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg early this morning.

“I’m going to vote for whoever can beat Obama and I believe he’s the best person for that job and I certainly hope he picks a conservative running mate.”

And she wasn’t alone. Of the nine people who agreed to answer WMNF’s questions this morning, only three didn’t vote for Romney. Most agreed he has the best chance to defeat President Barack Obama in the general election this November. Romney ran a television blitz blasting Gingrich on everything from his affiliation with the mortgage giant Freddie Mac to his credibility as an elected official. Romney supporter Alice Martinez didn’t vote for Gingrich because of some of that controversy.

“I think Newt Gingrich who is the other candidate who might have a chance, has too much personal baggage that would keep him from being electable.”

But another voter at The Coliseum, Cecelia Messina, voted for Romney because she said of all the candidates, “he seemed the least stupid”. Messina added her vote for him today doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll vote for him in the general election.

“It depends on who Romney picks as his running mate because that sort of gives you an insight into his way of thinking. For example, I would have voted for John McCain, but his way of thinking on his running mate was just too way out there.”

Elementary school teacher Jason Youse cast his ballot for Gingrich at Pinellas Community Church in South St. Pete only minutes after polls opened. Youse said Gingrich has a chance of beating Romney.

“If the media hasn’t already changed people’s minds, sure. I think he did good in the debates. Although I think that last debate Santorum did the best, but everyone’s talking about Mitt. They were saying that there’s a lot of absentee that they already did ahead of time, so maybe they got other votes in before they were told who to vote for.”

According to Florida’s Department of State, nearly 16 percent of registered Republicans in Florida cast their votes prior to Election Day. At one point, Gingrich was leading Romney in Florida polls so he could get a boost from early voting. South St. Petersburg voter Lenny LaFrance said despite negative ad campaigns against Gingrich, he thinks early voting combined with today’s primary, could lead to a Gingrich win in Florida.

“I don’t care who you are, you’re going to pick up scandals somewhere. You could be an A student your whole life and they’re going to find where you got C’s or B’s. Somewhere along the line you weren’t good. You made a u-turn where you weren’t supposed to. I mean, you could just keep on going. They could find scandals for anybody and everybody. To me, that’s dirty workmanship. He did it just as long as the rest of them did it.”

Ron Paul chose not to campaign much in Florida in favor of other states. South St. Pete voter Ian Steele supports Paul, but said he would consider voting for Obama if he doesn’t win the Republican nomination.

“I really only care about two things in the President, foreign policy and personal liberties, and he’s got them both spot on. Everyone else is a little wacko. I mean he has some issues domestically, some of his economic things I don’t necessarily agree with, but we’ve got to get out of all these countries that we’re fighting wars in and the war on drugs is completely out of control and he’s probably the only one that would change that stuff.”

Rick Santorum is currently polling a distant third in the state. The last polls in Florida close at 8 o’clock Eastern Time this evening. Romney is hosting an election night party tonight at the Tampa Convention Center.

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