GOP Candidates Make Last-Minute Appeals To Voters

Florida holds its Republican primary Tuesday. NPR's Don Gonyea has been in Florida ahead of the voting and talks with Audie Cornish.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich campaigned in Florida today, making last-minute appeals for votes in today's presidential primary. Polls close in most of the state in just two hours, and they close across the panhandle at 8:00 P.M. Eastern. NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from Orlando to talk about how the candidates spent their day. Hi there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. How are you?

CORNISH: So tell us, how did Mitt Romney spend his day?

GONYEA: Well, he had a relatively light day. He started out at his headquarters in Tampa. There were volunteers there. He kind of gave the traditional it's-Election-Day-thanks-for-all-your-hard-work speech, bumped a couple of them off the phones and made a few calls to people and, you know, had that moment. Hey, yeah, it's really me, Mitt Romney. I'd like your vote. But then that was it.

He did have a press conference, where he kind of looked back at what's been a pretty tough past week-and-a-half here, tough campaign, good week for him. It felt like kind of an easy day, kind of a frontrunner's day.

CORNISH: And we know Rick Santorum and Ron Paul more or less conceded this state and spent their time elsewhere, but what about Newt Gingrich? How did he spend his primary time?

GONYEA: It did not seem like a frontrunner's day for him. He was busy. He was running like a guy who wishes he had more time here. He was all over the place, Orlando, at a polling precinct, a county headquarter in Lakeland, over to a Southern Kitchen joint in Plant City. I caught up with him in Celebration. It's a little planned community not too far from Disneyworld.

What they do is they pull the bus up, the bus with - the red, white and blue bus with Newt Gingrich's picture on the side. They park it next to a beautiful park with trees with Spanish moss. Not coincidentally, about a hundred yards away or less, there's a polling place where people are going in to vote. He and his wife Calista step out, and they essentially form a receiving line. People line up and shake their hands and pose for pictures, and off they go.

But again, he's working it very hard. It's retail politics in a place where you don't really do retail politics, because the state's so big.

CORNISH: And, of course, you talked with voters, right? I hear you were visiting polling stations. What did you hear?

GONYEA: Well, they wanted to talk about the tone of the campaign, about the negativity of the campaign. And they would bring it up without me bringing it up. And again, you know, it was bare-knuckled. It was negative. The vibe you get from people when you talk to them is, like, come on, guys. I mean, we know this is hard fought, but isn't there anything positive that you can say at any point?

And, you know, it didn't matter if they were Romney voters or Gingrich voters or Ron Paul voters, and I talked to all of them today. They worried that the tone of the campaign could affect the general election. It's not that they're worried about giving ammunition to the Obama campaign against whoever the nominee is, but they are worried that it could kind of deflate the enthusiasm that we have seen all across the country among Republican voters.

Now, Mitt Romney did have a press conference. He was asked about the negative campaign, and he said, listen. Newt Gingrich came after us hard in South Carolina. We didn't respond like we should there. We weren't gonna let that happen in Florida. So they went after Gingrich hard. Of course, the Romney campaign went after Gingrich pretty hard back in Iowa. But anyway, the back-and-forth continues, Gingrich calling the Romney campaign dishonest, and worse, and so it goes.

CORNISH: And I'm sure we're gonna hear more of this tonight. NPR's Don Gonyea in Orlando. Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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