GOP 'Values Voters' in Florida Stand By Their Party Republicans in Florida come in many different flavors, but in the northern part of the state, it's "all social values, all the time." For example, the Northside Business Leaders — who meet every fourth Tuesday of the month at the Jacksonville Zoo — start every meeting with a group prayer.
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GOP 'Values Voters' in Florida Stand By Their Party

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GOP 'Values Voters' in Florida Stand By Their Party

GOP 'Values Voters' in Florida Stand By Their Party

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And our next stop is Jacksonville, Florida. NPR's Linda Wertheimer spoke with voters there about the candidates and next week's Republican primary.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: The Northside Business Leaders Club meets regularly for lunch at the Jacksonville Zoo north of town. The zoo has public meeting space often borrowed by local organizations, and it comes with the opportunity to meet some of the zoo's inmates. Yesterday, it was the blue-tongued skink, a very large lizard from Australia. They also met Republicans and a few Democrats who expect to be voting Republican in the general election. The meeting began with a prayer from Chaplain Ray Turner, pastor of the Vision Baptist Church.

Mr. RAY TURNER (Pastor, Vision Baptist Church): Here, you might as well go ahead and (unintelligible) and stand. I think most of you can do that without falling down. All right. Let's bow our heads together. Father and God, as we come into this building, we are truly blessed. It maybe a little cool outside to thank you for the sunshine.

WERTHEIMER: Our group of business people want the U.S. borders closed. They oppose universal health insurance. They don't like the Democratic candidates. And they've already cut the Republican field down to three they are interested in. But they also make it clear they're not in love. Steve Burnett runs a tax-preparing business. He's hoping for a brokered convention.

Mr. STEVE BURNETT (Jacksonville Realtor): I kind of like to see another Republican win and continue this roulette of different candidate winning in all the different primaries so there is no clear-cut leader. And so that some real strong Republicans will gather together and put in a candidate that really will be a conservative Republican.

WERTHEIMER: So do I take it that your answer is none of the above?

Mr. BURNETT: Except for — as a voting American, I think you have to select the best candidate that's available. So that, in my opinion, that's why I'm going to vote for Rudy.

WERTHEIMER: The idea that a group of Republican elders, presumably at the convention, would choose someone new who's not running now had appealed to some of our group. But several, like John McCain, including Gerri Jones, a realtor, who's president of this club.

Ms. GERRI JONES (President, Northside Business Leaders Club): I don't see a clear-cut winner in any of them. John McCain is very strong and I agree with a lot of what he's got going on. But one thing I'm concerned about is age, second, I'm not thrilled about his abortion siding. I am for stem-cell research, and he's the more liberal than some of the others on that. The majority of them are not looking at what I'm looking at.

WERTHEIMER: Patricia Hahn(ph) owns a cleaning service. She says she is still undecided and disturbed about it.

Ms. PATRICIA HAHN (Jacksonville businesswoman): If I was going to vote strictly on values, I would have to go for Mitt Romney. But other than that, I can't say that I'm excited about anybody that I've seen.

WERTHEIMER: Would you say that you are excited about Romney?

Ms. HAHN: No, ma'am. I can't say that I'm excited about any of them. But the lesser of three evils, maybe would be Romney in my opinion.

WERTHEIMER: Hahn says she likes Romney because he's a Christian and not ashamed of it. The chaplain, Ray Turner, sort of agrees. He says one candidate doesn't stand out more than another, but it's Romney by a hair. I asked if Romney's Mormonism is a problem.

Mr. TURNER: Not too much so anymore than Johnson was a Baptist, you know? Or Kennedy was a Catholic. We're looking for people that have more of a balanced view and doesn't really put their religion ahead of their politics, but at the same time, their religion tempers their politics.

WERTHEIMER: In this group of business people, we had only one clear preference expressed, from Jim Fair(ph), who owns a facilities management business.

Mr. JIM FAIR (Jacksonville Businessman): I think Romney is head and shoulders above all of them. I mean, one strange reason is, to me, he's presidential. He just looks presidential. He acts presidential. He talks presidential. He has done things with the state of Massachusetts that nobody has ever done. And I know that Giuliani has done things in New York City that nobody has ever done. So it's down to the two of them. But I think I like Romney the best.

WERTHEIMER: Despite the Baptist presence and commitment to values voting, not one of these groups was with Mike Huckabee, the Baptist preacher from Arkansas who seems to be fading as Florida's voting day approaches. One thing our group made perfectly clear, come November, they will be there for the grand old party.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Jacksonville, Florida.

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