Monday, January 21, 2008

The Endorsement War in Florida, Part I - McCain

The newspaper endorsement wars have begun just ten days ahead of Florida's "unauthorized" Presidential Primary. The Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and Gainesville Sun all published their endorsements on Sunday. The tally:

    McCain - 3
    Obama - 2
    Clinton - 1

The least important of these endorsements, in terms of population, may be the most important in turning out the young vote. Both Obama and McCain received the endorsement of the Gainesville Sun. That's important because Florida's flagship school, the University of Florida, is located there. Make no mistake, the hometown newspaper might as well be the campus paper. This is big news to all those college students.

To make it even more interesting, the University's President, Bernie Machen, took the unprecedented step of endorsing John McCain. Like it or not, he is still considered the "maverick" and that will attract the Republican youth vote as much as Obama will attract the Democratic one.

But, what does it mean?

[keep reading for more of what Florida's thinking about McCain ...]

Odd that one of the reasons for his support is the one that will sink McCain in the long run: his immigration stance. He can try to double-speak on this issue, but comments from readers on his endorsements tell me his previous support of Bush's immigration reform will sink him if it becomes a headline.
Machen said he was most impressed with McCain's ability to take stances that were not necessarily popular but that in his opinion were the right thing to do. He said he particularly supports McCain's immigration policy. The Arizona senator has tried to pass broad immigration reform but was met with resistance from fellow republicans.

McCain's Web site now calls for securing the American borders.

It strikes me that McCain is trying to parse his way around his support for the reform and it looks like his endorsers will be complicit. The Orlando Sentinel had five words tucked into his Iraq support:
But on two of his most controversial stands -- support for comprehensive immigration reform and more U.S. troops in Iraq -- he has stuck to his principles at the risk of sinking his campaign.

This is obviously meant to placate the "base" where support of the war is an absolute must to win the Republican vote and support of anything favorable to illegal immigrants is deadly. The Sentinel saw those exit polls that show the MSM's favorite son doesn't have the support of his own party and sought to diminish his worst issue with his most favorable.

The Sentinel labels Huckabee's flip flop on immigration and taxes and Romney's many flip flops and says, "it's hard to know what he really stands for, and what kind of president he might be". But on McCain's two major flip flops - evangelical support and supporting views tax cuts - as well as the previously mentioned immigration flip, the Sentinel says only that he changed his position for "political expediency."

The Gainesville Sun obviously didn't get the message from the Mechan endorsement article and really didn't get the Republican base memo when they touted:
We most admire McCain for his principled stand on immigration reform. He champions a comprehensive rewrite of immigration policies, including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, while most politicians are reduced by fear to mouthing empty slogans like "no amnesty."
Seems John has been reduced by fear also.

The Palm Beach Post puts the immigration issue in the category of reaching across the aisle:
... and collaborated with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on immigration. Like most Arizonans, he understands that the nation needs a comprehensive approach to immigration that not only tightens borders but deals pragmatically with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here.

Unfortunately, this is not the view of many voters in Florida - Republican or Democratic. Illegal immigration is seen as a real problem here - not just Mexican but Cuban and Haitian as well. Frankly, the Floridians against illegal immigrants are also likely to be against any concession to even legal immigrants.

Ads running in Spanish are met with derision. Read the comments on articles that are written about this and you'll know the Bradley Effect is alive and well in Florida where Hispanics are concerned. An astounding 42% of them specifically mentioned McCain's "amnesty" support of illegals as the reason they would never vote for him. And, I didn't eliminate the Ron Paul spammers from the total count.

While it's not scientific, the comments are representative of conversation after conversation I have with Republicans. This does not bode well.

I'm not proud to be in a state where such hatefulness requires that politicians deny any solution but a wall to a very real issue but it is happening. At the Police Chief conference I was at last week, only Florida's Property Tax Amendment issue got higher play. Giuliani support was abysmal but McCain's stance on this issue evoked more than a majority of negativity.

The Miami Herald reported that McCain won't be getting Senator Mel Martinez's endorsement so as not to offend Giuliani. In Miami's Cuban community - which turns out to vote - this is a fairly big slap, but I'm betting that McCain is breathing a sigh of relief. Otherwise, voters would be reminded that McCain joined with Martinez on the immigration issue:
Some viewed Martinez's decision to sit out as a betrayal of McCain, who helped Martinez push a radioactive White House-backed immigration bill. The measure was roundly condemned by conservatives as ''amnesty'' for illegal immigrants and cost McCain serious political points that helped almost kill his campaign.
Like it or not, this issue is toxic in Florida and Republican's won't forget McCain's high profile support no matter what he says today.

While it looked like McCain might be on top, Rasmussen reports softening support for McCain as well as Guiliani. Last week, it was a four way tie for first; now, Romney is ahead, outside the margin for error. Rudy imploded all on his own but Republican Floridians are surely starting to remembering the immigration fiasco this past summer.

As I've said before, the Republican Party does not like minorities and the base won't vote for anyone who supports them in any way. Factor in the fact the Florida is a closed primary - only Republicans can vote in the Republican Primary - and the only thing left is that McCain's a loser.