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Supporters of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cheer during a campaign event at El Palacio De Los Jugos in Miami, Fla., Aug. 13, 2012. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)
Supporters of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cheer during a campaign event at El Palacio De Los Jugos in Miami, Fla., Aug. 13, 2012. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)

Expat dispatches: What a Romney rally says about his odds of winning Florida Add to ...

Republican Mitt Romney announced his running mate, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, last weekend and the duo hit the campaign trail. Ashley O’Kurley, a financial planner in Miami, Fla., from Edmonton, Alta., was at a campaign rally (that had some controversy of its own).

This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.

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I went to the Mitt Romney event in Miami on Monday. It was at El Palacio de los Jugos (The Juice Palace) – this place is very West Miami latino, and literally a few blocks from Marco Rubio’s house. Incidentally, I don’t think that they ever play country music there, but I heard more country music yesterday than I think I’ve ever heard in Miami. Reminded me of being back in Alberta…except for the 93-degree heat.

I have been to hundreds of political events before and this one seemed pretty standard. There was a good crowd (maybe 500 to 600) with a few hundred more that couldn’t get in to the relatively small venue.

Mr. Romney’s speech was rather standard fare, but there is clearly some wind in the sails of the campaign after the Ryan pick. My favorite Romney quote was that “Barack Obama will make America more like Europe, but we will make America more like America” – not sure what that means, but I got a kick out of it.

My take on the choice of Paul Ryan as vice-presidential nominee is that he is a substantive pick that is a refreshing alternative to the TV reality show that was Sarah Palin. I think that he personifies the dominant track of tax-hating, small government Republicanism over the last 20 years and helps Mr. Romney to ingratiate the ticket with that demographic. Problem for Mr. Romney is that it is a shrinking demographic. I identify myself as a devoted fiscal conservative, but I don’t have the anti-government instinct that I so often sense among “right-leaning” people in the U.S.

For the last 20 years, the Republican Party has had a litmus test on taxes and “entitlements” that has boxed them into an intellectual corner. George H.W. Bush broke his promise on “no new taxes” and he lost to Bill Clinton so the Grover Norquists of the Republican Party have been able to establish a dominance of tax-hating Puritanism at the expense of rational thought.

Fact is, this country got into a massive debt problem by dramatically increasing spending and dramatically decreasing taxes. If you’re going to fight a major fiscal problem, saying that it can only be solved one way (less spending) is fighting a battle with one arm tied behind your back. Republican sages like Alan Simpson (from the Bowles-Simpson commission) realize this and I think/hope that several other voices in the Republican Party do as well. Even Tom Coburn from Oklahoma has questioned the wisdom of Mr. Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. Unfortunately, the “taxes are always bad” voices are still louder.

Waiting for over an hour to get in, I enjoyed listening to the other people in line shout back and forth with the protesters across the street. People have gotten exceptionally good at shouting at each other in this political system, but not so good at listening to each other.

The chants of "We are the 99 per cent" vs. "USA, USA" were not unexpected.  But standing in the heat and humidity for an hour with die-hard Republicans will bring out some commentary that one might not hear in polite conversation at the office.  Comments such as "they don't even pay taxes," "there is not a single American flag over there," and "they don't work, they just expect the government to give them everything" were reflective of one side of a hyper-partisan divide that has long since passed the point of being harmful to the creative potential of a healthy democracy. 

For all the democratic deficits that exist in the Canadian system, the fact that we have had six different political parties as the Official Opposition over the last 19 years, speaks to a dynamism that permits different perspectives to rise to the fore. In the United States, the intractability of the political system is a huge problem. It relates to financing and the existence of only two mainstream parties. They both dig in their heels and the only times that big decisions get made (maybe) is in the few months after a presidential election.

The anecdotal evidence that I have about whether Paul Ryan will help or hinder the Republican ticket in Florida is inconclusive.  Friends in the central and northern parts of the State are enthused and more optimistic (when you go north in Florida, you're really going "south" -- as in more redneck.  I'm from Alberta and don't consider "redneck" to be necessarily pejorative).

The western and southern part of the State is quite Medicare-sensitive, so the general consensus is that Ryan is something of a liability.  One strong paradox of politics in the U.S. is that people love Medicare, they just do not want to pay for it.  The reality is that Ryan's Medicare proposals wouldn't have much impact for 20 years, so as a deficit-fighting measure, it's all academic.  But changing a government guarantee is not easy to do among the elderly, and the Democrats are eager to fight that battle.

On balance, I think that John McCain "fit" Florida better than Mitt Romney does, but it is unlikely that Barack Obama will be able to catch lightning in a bottle the way that he did in 2008.  The conclusion?  Another close election where the winner of Florida will be the likely winner of the Presidency.  While we are still more than 80 days away from the election (a lifetime in an election campaign) I am of the opinion that Florida will be won by Obama by a whisker.

Ultimately, I think that Mr. Ryan is a substantive pick that will help to clarify the choice between the tickets, but that won’t necessarily be helpful to Mr. Romney overall. The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Romney can’t win the presidency if he can’t win Florida and based on what I saw yesterday, I don’t think that he will.

That being said however, South Florida is very different from the West, Central and Northern parts of the State. Florida will certainly be interesting to watch – let’s just hope that the election officials have learned to count since 2000.

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