The Romney team knows there is a good chance they could leave South Carolina without a victory, so they have begun looking to Florida as a defining moment in the campaign, and nothing less than a “must win.”
With the stakes so high, the Romney campaign has been working to line up what would be one of the last remaining All-Star endorsements: Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor. Multiple Florida insiders say that calls have been going back and forth. If things do not go well for Romney in South Carolina, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, could be just the thing to cure the candidate’s election blues.
Though nothing is currently set in stone in Florida, Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, has already voiced his support for Romney.
More good news for the Romney team: Florida is a state where they feel very well positioned. They have an enormous financial and organizational advantage there, and they are prepared to flex it big-time.
Some other things you might notice, according to people with knowledge of the campaign:
–Look for an uptick in the volume of the anti-Newt message on TV.
–Look for Romney to skip at least one of the debates scheduled for Florida next week. There is an NBC debate planned for Monday, a CNN debate on Thursday. Several Republican sources say there is almost NO chance that Romney will do both. It’s more likely he’ll do just one. They feel that the debates have given Gingrich, whose campaign is not flush with funds, a chance to get his message out. The Romney team would like to diminish that platform.
–Look for Romney to sharpen his message on releasing his tax returns. He won’t necessarily do it any sooner than April, he will just have a much snappier explanation of why not. There is a universal sense among people inside the campaign, and those close to it from around the country, that Romney’s sometimes stumbling answers about his taxes have hurt. It is rare in Romney world to hear criticism of the candidate himself, but this is one of those times. Those closest to Romney are meeting to remedy the messaging.
It is also important to note, the Romney campaign is not yet conceding defeat in South Carolina. They believe they have a much better organization there, with the help of Gov. Nikki Haley.
They also feel that Newt’s strong language about questions of infidelity might boomerang back on Gingrich. Yes, Newt’s anti-media barrage won cheers from a debate crowd, but Romney insiders speculate it might be a turn-off for some voters, particularly women. Perhaps, the Romney team hopes, enough to give him a slim victory Saturday.