When Republican Jon Huntsman pays his first visit to Florida today as a presidential candidate, he’ll try to engage in a little retail politics in a big state where retail politics don’t really work. Expensive TV ads do.
But 2012 could be different.
On Sept. 24, the Republican Party of Florida hosts its Presidency 5 straw poll, where 3,500 Republican caucus members will cast a non-binding vote for their favorite candidate. Thirty five hundreds voters are far easier to reach and charm than the 4 million registered Republicans who could cast ballots in the 2012 primary (whenever that will be).
“There will be a finite number of people who will vote and we’ll know who they are,” said David “DJ” Johnson, a veteran Republican consultant and former RPOF executive director who’s now a Huntsman advisor.
Huntsman begins his foray this morning in Miami, where he'll visit two Southwest 8th Street businesses Everglades Lumber and Building Supply (10:10 a.m.), and Sarussi Cafe and Restaurant (10:40 a.m.). Later this afternoon, he'll open his campaign headquarters in Orlando.
Huntsman’s the first Republican presidential candidate in recent memory to base his campaign in Florida. But, unlike Rudy Giuliani in 2008, Huntsman’s campaign said the candidate will campaign hard in the other early primary states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada (he’s skipping Iowa). Giuliani staked his fortunes on Florida and lost the state, as well as all others.
Johnson said campaigning in Florida will still be expensive. But in a state where television ads generally drive elections, the straw poll makes it far less expensive to stump here. The winner, presumably, would get loads of free publicity that would boost name ID, fundraising and therefore the campaign in other states.
“You can do a very effective operation without breaking the bank,” he said. “You’re not considering statewide media buys to reach 3,500 people.”
Also in Huntsman’s favor: Mitt Romney’s decision to eschew the Presidency 5 event, including a debate. When asked about Romney’s move, Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday “I think everybody ought to participate. Florida is a swing state.”
Miami-Dade GOP chairman, state Rep. Eric Fresen, said Romney’s decision “offended” him as a Republican. But, he said, it probably won’t make much of a difference to rank-and-file voters. Fresen, though, gets to cast a straw-poll ballot along with the 266 other Dade delegates. Dade has the most straw-poll votes because it’s the county with the most Republicans.
Fresen’s colleague, House Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, said he’s not ready to endorse, but he’ll show Huntsman around in Miami because he’s making an effort to come to the community.
Huntsman’s still a longshot candidate. The former Utah governor is little known. And hard-core conservatives don’t like what they know of him, from the fact he worked for President Obama to his support for global-warming legislation. What's more, Rush Limbaugh panned Huntsman's call for civility.
But the campaign has just started. So who knows?