WEST PALM BEACH/BOCA RATON, FL — John McCain’s campaign staff must have been quite optimistic about his level of support in southern Florida. This morning, they held a town hall meeting at a huge ballroom at a convention center in West Palm Beach, setting up chairs for over 600 people. But before the event started, it was pretty clear that the turnout would be lower, so they began to pull chairs and still had over 100 empty ones by the time McCain took the stage.
In his speech, McCain focused mainly on the Iraq War and national security, but seemed less comfortable talking about the economy, and when he did, he tended to tie it to pork barrel spending. Also, whenever he says he wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, it’s a reminder that he opposed them originally. This may hurt McCain as the campaign begins to focus more and more on the economy, and work to the advantage of Romney because of his business background.
The McCain supporters I spoke to were exactly what you’d expect–impressed with his character, his ability to reach across party lines, and his willingness to say what he believes rather than what he thinks people want to hear.
Compared to the enthusiasm of his crowds in New Hampshire in the days before the primary there, I thought this gathering was rather muted. Only about a dozen signs waving, no chants of “Go John Go!” or “Mac is Back.”
I arrived a little late for a Rudy event in Boca Raton held after, and the room was much smaller than the massive room McCain took out, but I’d say the crowd size was comparable–about 400–and everybody was standing. Despite his sagging numbers in most polls, the audience was quite lively, breaking into chants of “RU-DY” at one point.
Giuliani focused much of his speech on taxes, tort reform, and fighting terrorism. Consistent with my hunch, when he started talking about the National Catastrophic Fund, his last minute gambit to win the state, it dropped like a lead balloon. Other than one man who shouted “Yeah!” nothing but crickets.
In the press avail that followed, Rudy faced a combative press corps that has all but written him off, and he was forced once again to defend his strategy and express his intention to remain in the race. Fair or not, the media had decided that Rudy is dead, and this will dominate press coverage between now and the times when Floridians go to polls. Even those who would be inclined to support Rudy under normal conditions may be turned off because of a growing sense that he is no longer viable.