After enduring months of campaign speeches, debates and Herman Cain, voters in Florida finally get to cast their ballots in the Republican primary on Tuesday. With all eyes on the Sunshine State, Yahoo News spoke with Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo on the eve of the primary about the intensity of this election cycle, Newt Gingrich's startling comfort with the media, Mitt Romney's lack thereof, and what local political reporters like him do when the circus leaves town.
Yahoo News: What's different about covering the 2012 race than 2008 or previous races you've covered?
Caputo: What's different about the 2012 campaign compared to 2008 and 2004 is that it is much more volatile. Very much so. You're seeing that in the debates. In 2008, Mitt Romney, John McCain and [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani came down here. Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist backed McCain the weekend before the primary, and Giuliani watched his campaign implode. Let's just say Herman Cain is no Charlie Crist--he'd probably take that as a compliment at this point.
In 2004, the race was far less contested. You had a popular president in George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush was the governor. There's no way he wasn't going to win here.
In Miami, do you get more access to the candidates that do show up there than reporters do in, say, Tampa or Orlando or other parts of the state?
It depends. When a candidate comes here, sure, they'll do the de rigueur visit to Cafe Versailles. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have access to them. The thing about Miami press corps is, they're incredibly aggressive. They'll knock you over. We're like wildebeests down here.
I was going to ask you, 'What does the national media not know about the Florida media?' Is that it?
That's probably it. I overheard an AP reporter covering the Romney campaign discussing that with someone this morning. They said, "in Miami they're crazy." I think that's probably something the national media covering the campaigns are discovering. On the whole, we do a lot more reporting on issues that transcend local, such as immigration. But the national media can get that just by reading us. I know that sounds like a shameless plug, but it's true.
Of all the candidates, who is the most comfortable with the media attention? The least?
Oh Newt Gingrich, no question. He's very comfortable in his own skin. He'd probably be just as comfortable with the media if you hit him with an axe. It's just something that he's become very good at. He'll answer any question you ask him. With Mitt Romney, it's very limited. He's just not that comfortable without a net.
If you had the opportunity to moderate one of the GOP debates, what would be the first question you'd ask?
"All of you have bashed ObamaCare's $500 billion in Medicare cuts, yet you support Republican plans that could cut or reduce the same amount from Medicare. Can you explain the apparent discrepancy and also describe how, as politicians, you allowed Medicare and Medicaid to grow--yet you're highly concerned about government intrusion in healthcare now?"
Of course, the debates have shown that, due to the strictures of TV and the influence of the crowd on some reporters, it's tough to ask follow-ups/interrupt talking points to get an answer.
In hindsight, did the media--local and national--spend too much time/pay too much attention to Herman Cain?
No. Herman Cain won the Republican Party of Florida's straw poll and became an instant frontrunner. His folks wanted and needed the attention. He apparently had skeletons in his closet, a poor campaign team and a penchant for shifting his story. All inevitably led to mega-media attention and, ultimately, his downfall.
What's the biggest mistake national reporters make when they cover Florida? Hit the beach too long?
I think they misunderstand Florida's Hispanic vote. It's not as Mexican as it is in, say, California or Texas. It's not as Puerto Rican as, say, New York. Still, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latino group here behind Cubans. And, unlike most Hispanic groups, Cuban voters are overwhelmingly Republican. Because our largest Hispanic voting groups don't have the same immigration problems facing other Latinos--Cubans get asylum, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens--the immigration debate can be more conservative with them. There are many, many other nuances in Florida many don't understand as well. Still, Florida reflects the nation, so it's not hard to report on for outsiders who can easily find parallels with the rest of the country.
What happens after the Florida primary for you, personally? Do you have a letdown? It would be natural.
I get to sleep. I've been living out of a suitcase for weeks. Looks like it's going to be a blowout, which isn't a great story, the long race the national media might've been hoping for. But for me, it means I get to take a few days off. I'll probably go down to Key West, which is where I'm from, visit some friends and do some fishing.
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