As Brenda Mulberry stepped into the natural-food grocery in Cocoa Beach this week, she paused to tick off elements of her shopping list for a candidate in Tuesday's Florida primary. Electability was at the top, and for that reason she's backing Mitt Romney.Well, it's a pretty nasty fight by this point. And Romney's coming back up in the Florida polls, so perhaps the Sunshine State might be decisive.
Mulberry, 53, owns a small business manufacturing souvenir T-shirts, so she appreciates Romney's moneymaking skills and thinks critics should stop attacking him simply because he's rich. As for Newt Gingrich, Mulberry is certain the thrice-married former House speaker would lose in November.
She can hear President Obama now: "Well, I've been married to Michelle for all this time.... If he can't run his own personal life, then how's he going to run a country?"
But Jeff Cloud, 59, who makes a living doing yardwork in Florida's rural interior, questions whether Romney has the toughness it takes to sit in the Oval Office. For that reason, he leans toward Gingrich.
"He's fought a lot of battles," Cloud said, sitting at a picnic table outside the public library in Brooksville. "With Romney, I just don't know if his background is strong enough to be what we need as a leader."
The fight for the Republican presidential nomination, now centered in Florida, has become more than just a contest between Romney and Gingrich. It has become a battle over the direction of the party, between different visions of whom it serves — Wall Street or Main Street? — and whom it should represent.
It is an old fight, waged intermittently for more than 50 years, with different candidates — Eisenhower versus Taft, Rockefeller versus Goldwater, Dole versus Buchanan — in the roles of establishment favorite and conservative alternative. (Spoiler alert: The establishment pick almost always wins the nomination.) It is a fight, as well, between classes and cultures, evidenced by the support won this year by each of the main contenders in the three contests so far.