CELEBRATION, FLORIDA—A candidate's election-day schedule can sometimes be as good a predictor of the results as polling. This is the case with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on Florida primary day. Romney, whom polls forecast will walk away with a large victory today, hosted an early morning rally in Tampa, then took the afternoon off. Gingrich, on the other hand, kept his day packed, crisscrossing central Florida to try to scrounge up extra votes.
Yesterday, the Gingrich campaign ditched its normal bus for a chartered plane. Even with jet fuel behind him, Gingrich couldn't keep with his schedule; he was at least an hour late to most of his events yesterday. Today, his campaign stayed on schedule, much to my surprise. I arrived (late) at Fred's Southern Kitchen in Plant City about 20 minutes after Gingrich's bus had pulled away but, according to one bystander still milling about, I didn't miss much. Gingrich had rolled through greeting each table and briefly interacted with each voter (he complimented a woman on her brightly patterned red jacket) but didn't bother to address the crowd as a whole. Fred, the owner, beamed after the event and bragged about how satisfied Gingrich had looked when he dug into the buffet's collard greens, rutabagas, and cornbread before Callista pushed a bit of fruit on him.
Next on the schedule was a meet-and-greet outside a voting precinct in Celebration, a prefab community near the Magic Kingdom that attempts to replicate the 1950s of The Music Man but gives off a Stepford Wives vibe instead. The identical rows of white homes make it hard to distinguish which ones house families and which are empty models. Gingrich again made no speech, and just stood in place alongside Callista as a small selection of voters lined the block to shake his hand and get their picture taken in front of the campaign bus. Few had traveled far; voters I spoke with listed the nearby community center as their designated polling location. Most were self-employed and committed Gingrich fans who loved his "big ideas" but would gladly see anybody but Obama in office.
But some were just there for the spectacle. "I actually saw a post on Facebook saying Newt Gingrich was going to be here and it's literally like a two-minute walk from my house, so I thought why not," said Nalani Cummings, a bubbly 25-year-old housewife wearing Armani sunglasses. A self-described "Republicrat," she was a McCain voter in 2008, but is registered with neither party so she cannot participate in Florida's closed primary. Cumings said she is pro-choice but opposed to government "being involved in health care."
There was also a small selection of Ron Paul fanatics, hovering around the edges of the park. Clark Spurlock, 24, circled around the outskirts of the Gingrich crowd with a Paul yard sign attached to his bike. "He's the only one not spewing bullshit constantly, so that's cool," he said. "Newt Gingrich, part of the problem, not part of the solution." But from what I saw, Spurlock—the stereotypical Ron Paul supporter with long hair and an anti-establishment attitude—was there primarily to hang with his friends, doing little to engage the Gingrich supporters beyond booing as they cheered Gingrich's departure. His friends weren't as committed. One of them, sporting a Justin Bieber hairdo, said it was between Paul and President Obama for him. "Obama is a lapdog," Spurlock interjected.
"But he knows how to talk," his friend protested. "I want to hear a bedtime story from him."
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