The latest polls leading into Florida's January 31 presidential primary show Mitt Romney on top, with Newt Gingrich his closest competitor.
That's not exactly the way it played out this past Thursday in USF-St. Pete political scientist Judithanne Scourfield McLaughlan's "Road To The White House" class, where students listened to pitches from surrogates for all of the GOP campaigns except Huntsman's. Interning for a campaign is a key part of what's expected from the class.
At the end of the presentations (which also included a member of the Obama campaign team, as well as representatives from local Democratic and Republican organizations in St. Pete), students then congregated around the campaigns they'd decided to work with.
Romney and, not surprisingly, Ron Paul garnered the most support among the GOP, with four students each joining their local teams. But the most popular surrogate was Victoria Kirby, regional field director in West Central Florida for the Obama for America campaign.
The representatives of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were looking pretty lonely; the students ignored them.
Craig Bachler, who was speaking for the Santorum campaign, talked about himself initially, saying he was the "black sheep" of a blue-collar family from the Northeast. He trotted out the familiar talking points about the former Pennsylvania Senator — that he won elections (though not his last time around) in a liberal state, showing his abilities to appeal across party lines, and that he hailed from a family of coal miners. Bachler promised that the Santorum campaign was going to address the Sunshine State with a different approach (meaning no television ads?), and yes, said, "We're going to win the state of Florida."
Eileen Blackmer, a member of the Pinellas Patriots, spoke for the Newt Gingrich campaign. Like many of the other surrogates, she began her presentation with a YouTube clip. She showed a campaign ad that emphasized Newt's new 21st-century Contract with America.
Sounding like her candidate, Blackmer ripped into "Obamacare," saying it would ruin the U.S. health care system.
But Victoria Kirby from the Obama camp discussed how provisions in the health care reform law have already helped people like herself, saying that the fact that insurance companies can no longer refuse care to those with pre-existing conditions is a needed benefit.
Craig Briscoe is a member of the Tampa Bay field staff for Rick Perry. The Texas governor's campaign is in danger of becoming an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes, though hope springs eternal among South Carolina for Perry supporters.
Briscoe recited the talking points that won support for Perry when he entered the race last summer, like his successes with job growth in Texas and his belief in 10th Amendment rights (who could forget his threat to secede from the union?). He added that with all of the "damage done by Wall Street and the bailouts and the spending sprees," it would take a "true outsider" to clean up Washington's mess.
The students must work at least 40 hours on a political campaign by the time the class ends in late April.