For Rod Smith, last November was not a pretty month.
A political neophyte with boatloads of money thwarted his chance at claiming the Florida lieutenant governor’s seat, and his Democratic colleagues across the state and country were smacked hard at the polls. He jokingly referred to meeting with his “political consultants” after the elections — “John Walker, Jose Cuervo and Jim Beam.”
But while speaking Friday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center Gainesville alongside many top political insiders, Smith, the current chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, made it clear: 2012 would be a whole new game.
Every other year, UF’s political science department holds a conference where pollsters, professors, political correspondents and everyone in between are invited to discuss the presidential and midterm elections from a state and national perspective.
The conference is split into morning and afternoon sessions, with each handling either the presidential or midterm election.
In the afternoon session, the panel tackled some of the major questions regarding the next presidential election. The questions dealt with topics ranging from potential Republican Party presidential candidates to political issues that could propel or serve as a roadblock for the Obama administration.
Beth Reinhard, a political correspondent with National Journal and a former reporter with the Miami Herald, said the two numbers that determine if Obama serves another four years are unemployment and approval rating.
Another critical factor would be whether Obama could capture the same diverse electorate he did in 2008. Reinhard said it may be harder this time around, as he cannot run as a “candidate of hope and change” from inside the White House.
While members of the afternoon panel differed on the various issues, they agreed on the significance of Florida, traditionally viewed as an election swing state, in this upcoming election.
“I believe the road to Pennsylvania Avenue starts between I-75 and I-95,” Smith said.
The importance in Florida, Smith said, could be seen in the GOP’s selection of Tampa as a host city for the 2012 Republican National Convention.
And just who would Republicans nominate in 2012? Members of the panel indicated that, as of right now, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be the front-runner.
These assertions, however, were immediately met with “but...” as panel members emphasized the ever-growing field of candidates and the months between now and November 2012 to show how nothing was etched in stone.
David Hill, the director of Hill Research Consultants, expressed some doubts about a Romney campaign holding up, pointing to his performance in the 2008 Republican primaries.
“Romney was like seeing a bad movie trailer,” Hill said. “If you see a bad 30 seconds, are you going to sit through two and a half hours?”
Then came the big question: What about Sarah Palin?
David Wolfson, the president of the Tallahassee-based OSI Research & Consulting, a firm that caters to Republican candidates, said it would be unwise to underestimate the power the outspoken former governor of Alaska could wield in the primaries.
Smith, however, offered a more tongue-in-cheek take on a potential Palin run.
“I’m entirely in favor of her getting in.” he said.