Compiled by B.C. Manion
Susan A. MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida (USF), is widely known for her expertise on Florida politics. The woman, who grew up in the Lutz/Land O’ Lakes area, routinely serves as a political analyst for WFLA News Channel 8 and often offers her insights to journalists across the globe.
Here, she shares her observations from the Republican National Convention (RNC) with The Laker/Lutz News, which we present to our readers in a Q & A format.
Q. Why should readers care about the RNC, and why did it matter to you?
A. The recent Republican National Convention was a first for Tampa, bringing thousands of visitors from across the U.S. and the globe. Having a major political event of that magnitude in our city was quite a thrill for me — a girl who grew up in the then-rural Lutz/Land O’ Lakes area and went on to become a USF political science professor and a political analyst for WFLA-TV, News Channel 8 (Tampa’s NBC affiliate). I certainly wore both hats at the convention — the professor and the analyst, throughout the week.
Q. What were your overall impressions of the RNC?
A. Florida holds a lot of fascination — politically, economically, and culturally. In mingling with delegates from across the U.S. and journalists from around the globe, I was repeatedly asked five questions and these are the answers I gave:
–Q. How important is Florida in determining who gets elected president?
A. Very. Florida has 29 Electoral College votes — the same as New York — and is the most politically competitive swing, or battleground, state.
–Q. Why was Tampa selected as the RNC convention site?
A. The Tampa Bay media market is Florida’s largest; over one-fourth of the state’s registered voters live in the area. It is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and is quite diverse in its age and racial/ethnic makeup. It also has rural, suburban and urban areas — the building blocks of political campaigns.
–Q. Will the selection of Congressman Paul Ryan, from Wisconsin, as Mitt Romney’s running mate cause Romney to lose Florida because of seniors’ opposition to Ryan’s proposal to reform Medicare?
A. Maybe some, but not nearly as many as some are predicting. Florida’s seniors — 65 and older — are evenly divided between Republicans (42 percent) and Democrats (41 percent). They are likely to support their party’s presidential nominee. The age group most likely to be paying the most attention to Medicare reform proposals are the Baby Boomers near retirement, many of whom have already had to delay retirement due to the recent recession.
–Q. Is the I-4 corridor still the place where elections are won and lost in Florida?
A. Yes. Together the Tampa and Orlando media markets are home to 43 percent of Florida’s registered voters. The I-4 corridor is currently divided 38 percent Democrat, 38 percent Republican and the rest Independents. It is accurately called “the swing part of the swing state.” The presidential candidates will be here often over the next few months.
–Q. Will there ever be another political convention here after the close brush with a hurricane? (Tropical Storm Isaac)
A. Within the next 10 years, probably not. Longer term? It will be a long shot, but never say never. After all, they are still holding Super Bowls in blizzards!
Q. What other issue seemed to spark the interest of journalists?
A. Many reporters also asked questions about the economy in Florida and in Tampa. Here are some questions they asked on that topic:
–Q. Is Florida’s economy likely to improve by Election Day on Nov. 6?
A. In some parts of the state, such as South Florida, but not in others. The unemployment rate just went up again, and even if it falls over the next two months it is likely to remain slightly above the national average.
–Q. How much has the state’s high home foreclosure rate hurt President Obama’s re-election chances?
A. Probably, at least a bit. Suburbanites voted for Obama in 2008 but voted heavily Republican in the 2010 election — a shift some analysts attribute to higher home foreclosure rates in those areas. The suburban counties in Florida’s large metro areas will most likely be the swing vote in 2012.
Q. Does the Romney-Ryan ticket seem attractive to Hispanic, women and younger voters?
A. In 2008, a majority of Hispanics, women, and younger voters supported Obama. Republicans are working hard to do better among these groups in 2012. They are counting on some popular Hispanics like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Spanish-speaking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to campaign heavily in Hispanic areas. They are hopeful that Ann Romney will attract more female voters and that vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will help with young voters.
Q. Will Tea Party activists and Ron Paul supporters vote for Romney? Neither group supported him in the primary.
A. Most likely, although there will be a small percent that will not. Tea Party activists are more likely to end up voting for Romney than Ron Paul supporters. Many Tea Party voters have applauded the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket.
Q. What were some of the most fun and memorable moments?
A. My six favorites were:
—Seeing Busch Garden flamingos roaming through delegates attending the welcome party at Tropicana Field.
—Hearing “photogs” for WFLA News Channel 8 and FOX 13 arguing over who had the best or worst food. Did anyone mention cheesecake?
—The stirring speeches of Floridians chosen to address the whole nation.
—Running into former students who have become involved in politics as adults and love it as much as I do.
—Watching the balloons drop. I just never get tired of the hoopla signaling the end of a convention.
—Hearing an Oklahoma delegate leaving for the airport with armloads of souvenirs say “This was the most memorable experience of my life. I will never forget it.”