by Brent Moritz
With Super Tuesday just days away, Mitt Romney made a short-notice stop today in Edina, Minnesota. Meeting with an enthusiastic crowd, Romney's stump speech was well-received by the largely partisan and conservative crowd. I had the chance to visit with many Minnesotans and ask them a number of questions about their support for Romney. Old and young, families, couples and singles came from up to 70 miles away to hear Romney speak. I put on my journalist hat and wanted to report some of what the public was thinking.
Most people in attendance were either long-time Romney supporters or had recently switched to support Romney. Romney’s recent performance in the debates was seen as critical by several people. Some had followed his progress since Iowa, lamenting Huckabee’s win there while believing Romney won that debate. A few people had initially supported Tancredo, Hunter or Thompson and had moved to Romney as the most conservative candidate left in the race.
Many were really impressed with Romney’s conservative credentials. His positions on illegal immigration, trade and his stand on social issues were well-received in this partisan crowd. In addition, many people spoke highly of Romney’s personal lifestyle, as he was viewed by many as a man of character, integrity and “tremendous values.”
The economy was the number one issue cited by countless individuals, and Romney’s background was mentioned by nearly every supporter. Romney’s experience in the private sector was seen as a huge plus. One individual mentioned that Romney was the kind of guy he would expect to see in the CEO’s office, and was hopeful that experience would translate well to the Oval Office. Several mentioned that Romney as a “pro-business outsider” would be a great asset for the country. His experience was cited time and time again.
Other issues cited by Romney’s supporters were his work as the governor of Massachusetts and his work with the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Those who were undecided seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Romney the man rather than Romney the politician. They were open minded and wanted to see what Romney had to say, really to find out more about him. The number one issue for the undecided voters was the economy. One undecided voter from St. Paul was “leaning to Romney because of his fiscal policy” but was considering Obama “for his social policies.”
Several in attendance had been former Huckabee supporters but “Huckabee lost touch with me” after his win in Iowa, while another lamented that after Iowa, “Huckabee flaked out” and that “Mitt was the most Presidential” Several were concerned that Huckabee was dividing the opposition to McCain, while quite a few thought that “Huckabee was too liberal”. Several thought that Huckabee was staying in just to “siphon off votes from Mitt.” Still, a few thought that Huckabee was promised the VP spot.
Many individuals were vehemently opposed to McCain, which is not surprising considering those who were attending. Others were more kind, but worried that “it is too bad he is so popular.” One individual mentioned that “McCain is a great guy, but he is not well-suited to be president.” Another individual noted that “McCain is a Democrat, who associates with Ted Kennedy and Clinton”. Another called McCain a “quasi-Republican” and was supporting Romney because he could “drive the change we are looking for”. McCain’s attack of Romney by using the “timetable in Iraq” argument was particularly strong by several attendees. Several individuals called McCain “disgusting, smarmy and a liberal (as in the Clinton fashion).” One mentioned that McCain is running on his record in Vietnam, but that was “ancient history”. He wanted to see someone who was not a roadblock and who would “reduce the size of government.” “McCain has been in Washington too long” lamented one attendee, and Romney was the guy who could bring real change.
One individual mentioned she would “have to leave the country if Hillary wins”, and believed that Romney would put the country on the right course.
On the LDS issue (which I didn’t initially ask about), several volunteered that his standing in the LDS added to his integrity. One young Romney supporter from Corcoran, MN noted that “it is awesome that we have a Mormon running for President.” It seems like Romney has the strong support of the Minnesota LDS community, though my sense is that the majority in attendance were not LDS members.
I also asked the attendees about who would win the Minnesota caucuses. While no one predicted a runaway Romney win (he was running third in some polls), many at the rally thought it was too close to call. McCain has not visited Minnesota, and the number of likely caucus-goers is relatively small and that makes the polls hard to predict. My sense is that Romney’s supporters were really excited about the caucus and would out in force on Tuesday. In addition, many of the independent voters are likely to caucus for Obama in Minnesota. So while some were holding out for a “squeaker” or calling it a “toss-up”, most were realistic in their assessment in Minnesota.