Gingrich picks up future Senate President’s support, Romney backers say Perry departure no biggieby Dara Kam | January 19th, 2012
Rick Perry’s departure from the GOP presidential race is almost certain to help Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State’s upcoming primary as many of Perry’s conservative supporters – including the next Florida Senate president – defect to the former Speaker of the House.
But how much that matters depends on how well Gingrich, distrusted by many tea party activists, performs in South Carolina this weekend, Republican legislative leaders say.
Senate President-Designate Don Gaetz, a Perry backer, said he’s leaning towards Gingrich, not because the Texas governor has endorsed his former opponent, but because he, like many others, believes Gingrich would handily outshine President Obama in debates.
“I’ve respected Newt Gingrich for years,” said Gaetz, R-Niceville. Gaetz said he’s read Gingrich’s books and met with the historian on several occasions, “more than just casually.”
But, he said, “I’m happy with either Romney or Gingrich but I’m leaning toward Gingrich,” although “I can support Romney and support him with enthusiasm.”
Gingrich’s performance in South Carolina will influence how relevant Florida will be in determining the Republican candidate, some political insiders, including Gaetz, say.
The outcome of Florida’s winner-take-all-delegates primary could whittle the race down to contest between Romney and Gingrich or crown Romney as the all-but-inevitable nominee.
“It’s important for Florida to be relevant. So for parochial reasons, I hope that the contest goes on through the end of January at least because I want Florida to be important in selecting the Republican nominee,” Gaetz said. “So Gingrich would have to do well in South Carolina to keep hope alive among those who are unsatisfied with Romney.”
Perry dropping out of the race may have little impact on Florida voters, said Sen. John Thrasher, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and Mitt Romney supporter.
“I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. I think Newt’s where he is. I think Gov. Romney’s where he is. Most people still believe Gov. Romney’s the best choice, particularly in Florida. He’s got an incredible organization. He’s got a lot of troops on the ground all over the state. I think he’s got the resources to really put forth his message by Jan. 31,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said.
Perry made the right decision, Gaetz said.
“There comes a point when you look around and you realize that it’s hopeless. And I think that Gov. Perry has gotten to that point,” he said.