Dan Balz asks: "does South Carolina mark the beginning of real erosion in Romney’s standing that could lead to the former House speaker winning the nomination, something unthinkable only a month ago?"
That’s what Florida — and then Nevada, Michigan, Arizona and perhaps other states on the calendar — will tell us. But there is no doubt that the defeat here on Saturday represents a setback to Romney, who now has won just one of three opening contests in the GOP race after it looked like he was positioned to start the year 3-0 (though he still has two second-place finishes and thus the best overall record of the field). Strong debate performances by the former House speaker and a week of missteps and stumbles by the former Massachusetts governor brought the race to this moment."Florida will show which GOP candidate has momentum".
Adam C. Smith: "Now it's Florida's turn."
Mitt Romney is no longer coasting to the nomination, and Florida — a much different contest than Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — should determine whether Romney's campaign suffered a temporary setback or is in deep trouble. "Up next in the Republican primary race: Florida". See also "Next stop: A brawl at the 2012 Florida primary", "GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum to campaign in Lake County" and "Floridians, brace for blitz of GOP campaign ads".
Romney is favored to win the Jan. 31 primary, with the average of recent polls showing him ahead by more than 18 percentage points. He has much of the state GOP establishment, especially top fundraisers, behind him. He has by far the strongest campaign organization in the state. He and his allies already have spent more than $7 million on TV ads, including more than $4 million attacking Newt Gingrich, and have plenty more money to spend on TV. He should have a big early lead in the nearly 200,000 votes already cast in Florida — most while all the momentum was on Romney's side.
Losing Florida could be devastating to Romney, given the advantages he has. And it definitely could happen.
Romney flip-flops on Florida debate
"Romney says he'll attend debates in Florida".
"Slow start to early voting"
"As Republican presidential hopefuls made their final frenzied push in South Carolina on Saturday, early voting began across much of Tampa Bay and Florida at a much slower pace." "Slow start to early voting in Tampa Bay area".
"At Eola rally, Herman Cain calls for conservative 'revolution'".
"The most important single voting bloc in the Republican Party"
Anthony Man: "Conservative Christians, often called values voters, may be the most important single voting bloc in the Republican Party. 'It’s a massive component,' said Karin Hoffman of Lighthouse Point, founder of the tea party group D.C. Works for Us."
Peter Brown, associate director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said they make up about one-third of the Florida Republican primary voters. They easily have enough to sway the outcome of a primary contest, said Kevin Hill, a political scientist at Florida International University. And in a tight general election, they could determine the statewide winner in Florida, said Thomas McClusky, senior vice president of the Family Research Council’s political arm FRCAction."Christian conservatives ramping up politicial activity".
Gaetz and Weatherford run the place
"They're a generation apart and not widely known outside the corridors of the Capitol. But Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford share a tight grip on the political future of Florida." "Powerful duo in state Capitol wary of dangers".
Voter suppression in the spotlight
"Florida's new election law, which critics say is a thinly disguised Republican effort to suppress likely Democratic voters, will be the focus of a U.S. Senate committee meeting next week in Tampa. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is bringing the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights here Friday for a 1 p.m. hearing at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. The committee will take public testimony from interested groups, though witness lists have not been released." "U.S. Senate committee to hold hearing in Tampa on voting law".
Randy Schultz dances to the Chamber of Commerce tune.
Martinez, Scott and other political gems
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Martinez's example".
"It invites mischief" ... if not outright corruption
The Tampa Tribune editors: "Senate Bill 7170 would keep secret any information about outsourcing a government function until after the contract has been approved. In other words, the public would not know what was going on until it was already done."
The measure stems from a court ruling last year against the Legislature's privatization of 29 prisons. It was included in the overall budget; the state courts ruled the privatization should have been in a separate bill."Slamming door on the public".
[The right-wing Trib editors] believe the lawmakers had a point when they contested the judge's ruling that a change projected to save the Department of Corrections $22 million was not "rationally related" to the overall budget. ...
But regardless of the details of that case, this proposal would allow lawmakers to outsource work to private companies without proper scrutiny. It invites mischief.
Stop the privatization madness
Even the Tampa Tribune editorial board sees it: "The Florida Legislature is seeking to give thousands of acres of public lands to private landowners, threatening citizens' shoreline access and jeopardizing safeguards for rivers and lakes."
Floridians should be alarmed."Beware legislative land grab".
At risk is the shoreline that is under water part of the year. Conserving the shore guards against flooding and allows vegetation to filter pollutants.
If privatized by lawmakers, the shoreline now owned by all Floridians could be fenced off, mined, logged and possibly developed.
Lloyd Dunkelberger: "Scott’s controversial plan to cut $1.9 billion in Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals may not win backing in the Legislature this year." "Legislature may not pass Scott's Medicaid budget".
"Stacking districts to keep themselves and their buddies elected"
Scott Maxwell writes that "Florida legislators have responded to the voter mandate for compact, sensible districts with two simple words:"
Forget you."Politicians to voters: FORGET YOU! They can't kick gerrymandering habit".
(Around the newsroom, I used two other words — one of which was still "you." But this is a family newspaper.)
The politicians have continued gerrymandering districts just the way they wanted: stacking districts to keep themselves and their buddies elected and denying the voters true choice.
"Jeb!" goes to ground
"Jeb Bush Refrains From Endorsing Anyone".
The Tampa Bay Times editors have "10 questions the Republicans should be prepared to answer". "For GOP candidates, 10 questions from Florida".
"Given past scandal ..."
"Amid a clamor to overhaul a state university system lawmakers say isn't cutting it, Sen. John Thrasher wants to ban lawmakers from holding jobs with public colleges and universities they fund."
Given past scandal, Thrasher said it's best to eliminate the "conflict of interest.""Florida lawmakers' personal interests complicate effort to overhaul higher education".
But Thrasher is the same lawmaker who, as House speaker in 2000, helped secure a new medical school at Florida State University that higher education officials resisted. Then he helped eliminate the state board that opposed it.
In a speech opening the legislative session, House Speaker Dean Cannon said Florida's public university system is "racing toward the middle," a hodgepodge of schools with no clear mission and overlapping agendas.
And he put part of the blame on lawmakers.
"Florida's jobs numbers are just estimates"
"Scott - who has billed himself as Florida's jobs governor - says repeatedly that he receives a new grade every month when Florida's unemployment rates are released. But maybe the grade Scott should get in his first year in office is an incomplete. Since Scott was sworn in the state's jobless rate has dropped from 12 percent in December 2010 to 9.9 percent in December 2011."
Yet those unemployment rates are based on a monthly survey that state and federal officials acknowledge is likely to change. And sometimes the revised numbers are much different than the ones that receive a lot of initial attention - sometimes by as much as a percentage point, which equals about 90,000 workers."Florida's monthly jobs numbers are just estimates".
It's not a secret that the numbers are refined as more information becomes available, including unemployment compensation records.
"A significant step in the right direction"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Citizens' revised policies to consider appraisals and contractors' estimates for replacement costs make sense. It won't solve the property insurance crisis in Florida or prevent premium increases for other reasons, but it's a significant step in the right direction." "An about-face for Citizens".
"State fund that pays for school construction is broke"
"An unfinished university science lab. Leaky roofs in elementary schools. Plans for a new classroom put back on the shelf."
On campuses across Florida, these and other projects are stalled because the state fund that pays for school construction is broke. And it looks like there won't be any money for the next two years."Florida schools, colleges are growing, but state construction money has dried up".
Blame all those people who gave up their land lines and bought energy efficient appliances. The fund known as PECO, used by schools exclusively for new buildings and maintenance, gets its money from a tax on telephones and electricity.