Due to personal reasons, I had to leave the Presidency IV event a little early and apologize for not covering the event as thoroughly as I had hoped.
For those of you who attended Presidency IV and wondered why Gov. Huckabee was not present at the candidate rally Saturday and why the campaign was not present with stickers, etc, let me offer this explanation. The Republican Party of Florida was charging each candidate $100,000 to participate ($250,000 after a certain deadline!). For better or worse, this was a money grab for the state party and Gov. Huckabee’s campaign had to make a difficult, yet wise, budgetary decision. While obviously the governor participated in the Fox News debate, the Republican Party of Florida would not permit him to actively campaign during the rest of the weekend events. I know I spoke with many people who were disappointed that Gov. Huckabee did not have a presence so I wanted to offer that explanation.
Just for comparison, Fred Thompson did “pay to play” this weekend and brought great disappointment to his Florida supporters. Each candidate was allotted 20 minutes to speak to the crowd, show a video and work the audience. After a short intro video, Thompson only spoke for 4 minutes, 37 seconds. As the Orlando Sentinel political blog points out, this means Thompson paid $22,000 per minute for his brief presentation to the crowd of Republican activists.
(I was there for his speech…it was really bizarre. After walking on stage with his wife Jeri and she exits stage rear, Fred opened his speech with his already-used line, “Don’t you think she will make a better looking first lady that Bill Clinton.” I mean, I can’t believe his handlers are not advising him against that phrase. It had an affect only the first time he used it and it received press coverage and now every time his says it I believe it plays into the impression that he has a young trophy wife…wouldn’t she look gorgeous in the White House, ha ha. So then he starts rambling off some lines thanking the crowd for hanging around to listen to all these politicians…we sure have a lot of issues to work on…I read Conscience of a Conservative when I was young so I am the most conservative candidate, etc. Before I knew it he gave a semi-strong applause line and then walked off stage. Everyone kind of paused, then clapped a little, then the music started playing and people clapped a little more. Finally, after maybe 15 or 20 seconds, Fred walks back on stage and then down into the crowd to shake hands. Like former state chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan said, “Thompson “appeared to be a reluctant candidate.”)
The prayer breakfast Sunday morning was good. Among the speakers were Mark Merrill from Family First in Tampa, Sen. Mike Fasano and a Jewish rabbi from Tallahassee. Prior to the breakfast I stood outside as people entered and simply greeted them and smiled (with my Mike Huckabee button prominently displayed). Many people stopped to ask about the governor and when he would be onsite.
While driving home Sunday night, my wife balanced the laptop in the passenger seat of our van and we were able to listen to most of the debate online at Foxnews.com. As I told many participants earlier this weekend, just wait until the debate and Gov. Huckabee will bring down the house. Gov. Huckabee did not disappoint. There is great coverage of the Orlando debate on the Mike Huckabee campaign site.
I think Florida Republicans are now waking up to the fact that they do have another viable option in Gov. Mike Huckabee. My humble political assessment is that in Florida, Thompson will start to decline and Huckabee and Romney will rise and compete to challenge Rudy's lead.