With three Republican presidential candidates splitting the 2012 primary wins thus far (Sen. Rick Santorum in Iowa, Gov. Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, and Speaker Newt Gingrich in South Carolina), the upcoming Florida primary is the most critical contest yet for the field. It is also a must carry state come November for whoever wins the GOP nomination.
Florida is a very unique and diverse state with a large retirement community, a significant Cuban-American population, and a 9.9% unemployment rate. So issues like Social Security sustainability, immigration, and job creation were front and center in tonight’s debate in Jacksonville.
Not only do I think Romney won the debate tonight, but I also believe this was his best performance yet, which couldn’t have come at a more critical time.
Romney both took a bold stance and cleared up any confusion on where his stance on immigration when he responded to Gingrich’s attacks. He deftly pointed out how Florida Sen. Marco Rubio came to Romney's defense on Gingrich’s attacks as well. Tonight's aggressive performance should quell rumblings from far right conservatives about Romney's not being “confrontational enough.”
Romney followed-up by going on offensive on Gingrich’s prior history and relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Better yet, when Gingrich retaliated with accusations of Romney owning stocks in these housing assistance institutions, not only did Romney set the record straight regarding his blind trusts, but he also pointed out how Gingrich has stocks in Fannie and Freddie as well. Another win.
Romney showed that he has the guts to tell people what they need to hear vs. what they want to hear. A perfect example of this was when he was asked about NASA’s space exploration programs. While Gingrich talked about restoring funds for NASA and becoming the leader in space exploration once again, Romney, at the risk of looking unpopular in front of a Florida crowd, realistically admitted that America simply doesn’t have the money to invest in low priority programs like NASA today.
When Santorum pressed him on Massachusetts healthcare, Romney’s eternal primary battle, the Governor did not back down there either. He listed all the ways that his healthcare reform is different from Obama's and exposed all the false claims critics like Santorum have made. My only gripe is I wish Romney would’ve pressed Santorum on what he would do about free riders who don’t currently have healthcare insurance and receive treatment on the taxpayer’s dime. That was Romney’s only missed opportunity tonight in my opinion.
But most important of all, Romney didn’t back down from his success as a venture capitalist. He was proud and unapologetic about his record as a successful businessman who supports free market solutions and believes economic liberty is what makes America so great. That message is so critical for the general election. It provides a stark contrast to President Obama’s vision of big government-based solutions and redistribution of wealth policies. It gives voters a clear choice in November of what actions and policies we will pursue to reinvigorate the American economy. That will be the top priority of the 2012 election and that can only be done by restoring confidence in our leadership and clearing away uncertainties over long term tax rates, regulations, and healthcare coverage to encourage private sector expansion, investment, and job creation. Mitt Romney, as a private sector veteran instead of a career politician, knows how a free market economy works and reaffirmed tonight why he is the best candidate to fulfill this role.
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