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Conservative North Florida voters: Romney's too rich

By John Sepulvado, CNN Radio
updated 2:29 PM EST, Thu January 26, 2012
Business owner Ron Crum calls Mitt Romney an
Business owner Ron Crum calls Mitt Romney an "elitist," which in North Florida is as bad as calling him a liberal.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Florida businessman sees Romney as privileged, not having earned his riches
  • Even though both Romney and Gingrich are well-off, the term "elitist" has stuck with Romney
  • North Florida liberal says if Gingrich is GOP nominee, she'll work to help defeat him

Panacea, Florida (CNN) -- While media outlets and Beltway pundits might use state polls to gauge the race in Florida between GOP presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, Ron Crum uses poles.

Fishing poles.

Crum, a Republican small business owner in this sleepy seaside town south of Tallahassee, calls Romney a multi-millionaire who expects to get breaks because he's rich -- be it a low tax rate or the GOP nomination.

But former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Crum says, is a man who understands the plight of the working class and can articulate conservative principles effectively.

Picking up two fishing rods, Crum says the expensive Penn International, priced at almost $400, is like Romney. Meanwhile, the Jarvis-Walker, which he says does everything the other rod does but sells for about $50, is like Gingrich.

"I got a customer," Crum continues. "He has about six rod holders on the side of the boat. He's got six Penn Internationals, and when he leaves port he has them on this side of the boat towards the docks, and when he comes in he puts them on the other side of the boat. We go out there because it's a good day to be alive, God built a world let's go enjoy it, but the elitist wants to impress their friends."

Putting the poles back in the rack, Crum says, "Gingrich, as a capitalist wants to come out here with the working people and the people earn money from the industry of this country. Romney is basically an elitist."

And for conservative North Florida voters, the term elitist is almost as bad as calling someone a liberal. That label is sticking with Romney, even though both candidates are worth more than many North Floridians earn in a lifetime.

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Empty dock towns

North Florida locals like Rodger Noe say they can remember when industrial fishing and crabbing operations provided jobs for North Florida, back before environmental regulations strangled the local economy.

The median income in this conservative area is between $24,000 and $29,000. The sluggish economy is evident on boat docks, with its empty slips.

Soundoff: What issues matter to you this election?

Most of the boats left belong to people "with their noses in the air," Noe says.

"I got a boat recently," Noe says. "I took it to the dock I used to 10 years ago and the manager was happy to see me. But the owner" -- Davis sticks his nose up in the air -- "he didn't want me there, so I was told to go."

Davis says the wealthy dock owner didn't want his workboat "muddying up" the view.

"Romney's one of them," Noe says. "I liked Herman Cain, but now I like Newt."

State polls in Florida haven't given much hard data about North Florida's rural areas, but a CNN/Time/ORC poll released Wednesday gave Gingrich a slight edge in north and central Florida while Romney was the favorite from Tampa Bay and south.

Romney recently attacked Gingrich as a career politician who hasn't lived in the "real streets" of America.

"Well, that's another thing," Noe says laughing. "We got highways and roads here. Cities have streets."

Gingrich motivates gun-owning liberals

The prospect of a Gingrich candidacy is also exciting some of the liberals in the area.

In Baum Community, a forested little town north of Tallahassee, former teacher and "gun-owning liberal" Paige Forshay says she's been talking about Gingrich a lot with her conservative father.

One of the topics was an ex-wife's interviews in which she says he wanted to have an open marriage.

"Newt Gingrich, he's laughable," Forshay says. "It's so interesting his ex-wife came out and says he wanted to have this polyamorous relationship. It's just absolutely hilarious. Who would want to have a polyamorous relationship with that man? How can you run knowing that's out there? You should be embarrassed, you should be ashamed of yourself."

Forshay says if Romney's nominated, she'll vote for the Democrat, but she won't engage in the election.

"Mitt isn't scary," Forshay says.

But if Gingrich represents the GOP, she'll stuff envelopes, knock on doors... whatever she can do to help Gingrich lose.

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