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2012 Around the Corner, Mitt Romney Continues to Build in Florida

March 1, 2011 - 6:00pm

As he clearly contemplates making a second stab at the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts went to bat for Republican legislators across Florida, helping them with fund-raising projects -- building on his 2008 efforts in the Sunshine State.

Free and Strong America PAC, a leadership group affiliated with Romney, sent out $83,500 to Republican legislators across the nation, including five from the Sunshine State.

It is important that we stand with our Republican members of Congress and show that we support their pro-growth agenda and their efforts to reduce the size of government, Romney said in a statement on Wednesday. Now is the time for all of us to send a powerful message that Americans will no longer tolerate the Washington culture of higher taxes, higher spending, and higher debt.

Free and Strong America sent $2,500 to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is up for re-election in 2016. The PAC also sent out $2,000 apiece to four Republican members of the U.S. House from Florida -- Sandy Adams, Mario Diaz-Balart, Rich Nugent and Dennis Ross.

This is the second wave of contributions sent out by Free and Strong America in recent weeks. In early February, the group released more than $130,000 to Republicans across the nation, but only one Floridian -- U.S. Rep. Connie Mack -- received backing at that time.

But a new poll finds that Romney has work to do in the region. A poll of 825 voters from across 11 Southern states, including Florida, released by Winthrop University on Wednesday, showed Romney in fifth place among probable Republican primary voters in the region.

The poll had former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran in 2008 and has left the door open for running again in 2012, leading with 21.9 percent of the vote. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia placed second with 12.9 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took third with 8.7 percent while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who insists he is not running, took 7.6 percent for fourth place. Romney came in fifth with 6.9 percent. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota placed sixth with 6.2 percent, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in seventh with 5.8 percent and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana took eighth with 2.7 percent. Businessman Herman Cain of Georgia placed ninth with 1.6 percent, followed by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with 1.1 percent, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi with 1 percent and former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico with 0.3 percent. U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who announced last week that he was not running, garnered no support in the poll -- tying him with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah at the bottom.

The poll of 825 voters from the 11 Confederate states was taken on Feb. 21-27 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.41 percent.

However, the former Massachusetts governor did well in the Sunshine State back in 2008 and has been active in Florida during the 2010 election cycle.

Romney placed second in Florida during the 2008 presidential primary, taking 31 percent, 5 percent behind U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Romney carried 18 of the states 67 counties, showing great strength on the First Coast and in North-Central Florida but also carrying a handful of counties in the Southwestern part of the state.

Romney was active in the Sunshine State during the 2010 election cycle, backing candidates for state and federal office.

While Romney initially backed then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in the divisive gubernatorial primary over Rick Scott, the former Massachusetts governor hit the campaign trail for Scott after he won the Republican nomination. Romney also supported Jeff Atwaters bid to become state CFO and Adam Putnams campaign to be the state agriculture and consumer services commissioner.

Romney also hit the campaign trail for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio and backed Republican congressional candidates including Adams, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Ander Crenshaw, Diaz-Balart, Mack, John Mica, Bill Posey, David Rivera, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,Ross, Steve Southerland, Cliff Stearns, Dan Webster, Allen West and Bill Young -- all of whom prevailed in November. Romney also backed Republican candidate Mike Prendergast, now Scotts chief of staff, in his unsuccessful bid to topple Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

The former Massachusetts governor even backed state legislative candidates, attending a campaign kickoff event for Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, then chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Thrasher supported Romney back in 2008. Romney also backed the re-election bids ofSenate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island; House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park; Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; and then-Rep. Jennifer Carroll, who abandoned her bid for another term in the House when she was named as Scotts running mate. Romney also backed Anitere Flores successful bid to move from the House to the Senate, and Dennis Baxleys campaign to return to the House.

Romney won the backing of a number of prominent Floridians in 2008, including Crenshaw, Mack, former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite and former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney in Congress. Romney also did well on the conservative First Coast, winning the support of Thrasher, Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, Sheriff John Rutherford of Duval County, and the late Rep. Don Davis. Prominent Florida conservatives -- including Baxley, David Caton of the Florida Family Association and Carole Griffin of the state Eagle Forum -- backed Romney. So did former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Heathrow, who is scheduled to become speaker after the 2014 elections.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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