There was a pretty clear consensus from a few folks we spoke to as the crowd poured out of last night's debate: Rick Perry is the man Florida Republicans overwhelmingly favor. Here's our debate story
But they overwhelmingly cringed at Perry's performance, especially the second hour (this isn't the first time he seemed to wilt late in the game). A favorite word to describe the Texas governor: "stumbled." Perry was clobbered, again, by all sides. But he had trouble at times enunciating his own attacks, such as one toward the end against Mitt Romney over the former Massachusets governor's flip-floppery over abortion.
"I like Perry but boy, he didn't do well. He stumbled," said former state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis, who still expected to support Perry.
Another Republican, a longtime source, told us an interesting behind-the-scenes anecdote about the so-called "green rooms" where each candidate waits off stage and preps for the debate. Mitt Romney had a big table with policy papers stacked on it. Perry's didn't and some say he didn't seem to be rehearsing. Not sure if this is true. But the fact that this is making the rounds at Presidency 5 is another problem for Perry.
Also, Republicans like Senate President Mike Haridopolos said they want their candidates to enunciate specific, concrete plans to fix the economy. Perry refused to offer much, saying he'd announce a jobs plan later.
If this keeps happening, expect the electability argument to start haunting Perry. Republicans abhor the notion that Obama would rhetorically eat their candidate alive on stage. Also, polls show Perry beats Romney, but Romney's the better general-election candidate. And he's sounding more and more like a general-election candidate by stressing middle-class tax cuts.
By contrast, Romney supporters seemed more enthused about their candidate's performance. And there was a sense of longing -- that Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain aren't far enough along to make it. They got the most love.
Sure seems like Cain is on the short list as a vice-presidential candidate -- especially if Perry makes it as the party's nominess. Cain has the business bonafides and it would help the ticket to have an African American to oppose the first African American president. Gingrich seems ready to be an ambassador or Cabinet member, though he'd be tough to control for any president.
Then there's the matter of boos.
Once again, Perry got booed for standing up for the so-called "Texas Dream Act" that subsidized higher-education tuition for some illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as kids. And there were boos directed at a gay soldier who spoke against the just-ended Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Conservative blogger Sarah Rumpf was in the room and reports that the boos directed at the soldier were only from one or two people, but the accoustics in the concrete-bunker of a chamber made it seem far louder.
Liberal bloggers pounced Thursday. They said this was a low point for the crowd and for candidate Rick Santorum, who hasn't served in the military and essentially told this soldier that he shouldn't, either. , because sex has no place in the military. Somehow gayness didn't hurt the military abilities of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar (whom Suetonius called every man's woman and every woman's man) or, perhaps, the Revolutionary War figure Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.
The booing of the soldier mortified a number of Republicans, who are still surprised that someone at the Sept. 12 Tampa tea party debate screamed 'Let 'em die" in response to a question about end-of-life care for a person who can't afford the treatment. Death Panels anyone?
True, it's only a few people in the crowd who can't keep their mouths shut. But the outbursts keep happening and happening and.....