Florida Republicans, in Their Own Words

BY Judy Woodruff  January 29, 2012 at 8:03 PM EST

NAPLES, Fla. | Even with the hot lights of the national news media pointed in their direction, the majority of Florida’s 18 or so million residents are managing not to focus on next Tuesday’s Republican primary. From our vantage point, driving from Tampa to Jacksonville, and back south again to Orlando, and on down to Naples, people’s lives appear to go on as usual.

Mothers with children at a shopping mall, hotel bellmen scurrying to grab a guest’s luggage, sleepy Sunday morning shoppers at a Wal-Mart. One voter in south Florida responded, “What campaign?” when a reporter asked about the contest that’s consuming giant chunks of TV commercial air time in the Sunshine State.

But for the thousands of committed Republicans who are paying attention and making the effort to show up at candidate events, opinions can be pretty sharp.

“I think Mitt Romney is smug; he’s already packed his bags for the White House,” said a woman at a small Tea Party Express rally near Jacksonville. “And he dresses up for different occasions; wears jeans and no tie to try to morph into the people he’s talking to.”

Her bigger complaint? “He’s too liberal.”

Another woman at the same Tea Party Express stop quoted Newt Gingrich approvingly from last Thursday’s debate: “He does his homework; he knew about a shipbuilding project here, and what it will mean for our community.”

In Winter Park, near Orlando, a school teacher stops on her way out of a forum hosted by the “Liberty Counsel,” a socially conservative non-profit. Having just listened to Gingrich speak, she told us she was looking for someone “faithful to God, faithful to his wife,” and she found him wanting. She said she was glad to know God had forgiven him for his mistakes, but she wasn’t ready to. Plus, she added, all his “baggage” would be used against him in a general election contest with President Obama.

The school teacher pronounced herself most impressed with Rick Santorum, but added she worries about his staying power. That echoed the views of another woman leaving the same forum. Of Gingrich, she said, “He’s not a seasoned conservative, like Rick Santorum. I know he’s a long shot, but I’m praying for him to make it.

Sunday in Naples, in a crowd who came to see Mitt Romney, we found a chorus of Republican voters satisfied with what they’d heard.

“The problem is the economy, and he has the business experience to turn things around,” said one woman who’d already voted early for Romney. Another woman insisted she didn’t need to explain her preference, other than to say she thinks Romney is best able to defeat President Obama. But, she added, she’d vote for any Republican in November: “We have to get that man out of the White House.” She looked at this reporter directly in the eye. “That’s the only thing that matters.”

Follow Judy Woodruff on Twitter.