by Gary Nager

As I do every presidential election season, I watch and pay close attention to all of the candidate debates before making my choice of who I’d like to see (and endorse here to) become the next U.S. President — and there’s no doubt that the three presidential debates between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, as well as the vice-presidential jousting match between current V.P. Joe Biden and Congressman/candidate Paul Ryan have given me a lot of food for thought.

As a registered Republican who endorsed and voted for Pres. Obama in 2008, one thing I can say is that whichever man wins our nation’s top office, I believe our country will be in capable hands. I thought before the debates that Gov. Romney was going to be well “prepared” by a team of coaches and would make a good showing, despite some of his “missteps” (e.g., the “47 percent” thing) just prior to the first set-to, but what I have seen instead is a man who is living and breathing his “material,” a man who can think on his feet and who truly has the courage of his convictions, even though I don’t agree with all of his plans for our country.

Particularly impressive to me, as both a newspaper columnist who is used to having opposing viewpoints slapping me in the face all the time and as a former seasoned debater, was when first debate moderator Jim Lehrer multiple times interrupted the former head of Bain Capital — in the middle of Romney’s response, mind you — and asked him an entirely different question.

Instead of, like most debaters, asking if he could finish answering the initial question first and then take some time to consider the new question, Romney showed an uncanny ability to jump immediately into answering the new question and then going back to answering the original, without ever losing his train of thought.

All I can say is that no amount of “prepping” can possibly get you to be that comfortable with your information. You either know your stuff or you don’t and Romney clearly does. Whether or not I agree with everything he says isn’t the issue — I certainly don’t agree with everything Pres. Obama says and does either — I just want to know, whether the candidate I endorse/vote for wins or not, that our country will be run by someone who is smart and not afraid to surround himself with other capable people. I never really felt that way with Sen. John McCain four years ago…and felt even less so after McCain chose former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

I also, however, was a lot more impressed with V.P. Biden in the debate against Rep. Ryan than I had been in years. Biden, always known for his malaprop-filled speech, was sharp, prepared and much more aggressive than Pres. Obama was in the first debate against Romney, even though that “aggressiveness” also, to me, made him come off as trying to bully his opponent into not being to get out his own answers.

Biden continually interrupted Ryan as the latter was trying to answer questions, which may have won the VP some points with some voters for being a “bulldog,” but surely didn’t win him points with the rest of us who really wanted to understand what his opposing views to Ryan’s were. The V.P. continually talked over Ryan in order to keep the Congressman from being able to defend his position. Ryan also was somewhat argumentative, but I believe the “fault” clearly lied with moderator Martha Raddatz, who didn’t do enough to remain in control of the situation (at least, in my opinion), and I believe the losers were all of those undecided voters who have to actually hear an argument in order to be persuaded by it.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama clearly was more on his own game, more in control and more “presidential” in the last two debates than he was the first time around, but he continued to lose ground to Romney in the polls, despite that stronger showing. Why?

I believe it’s because so many people are still hurting financially all across this great country of ours and the perception is that Obama hasn’t done enough to try to pull us out of the worst economy since the Great Depression.

I also believe that the biggest mistake the current president has made to date in his first four years was pushing through his “Obamacare” legislation before he did everything he could to address the nation’s financial woes. If the President spent his first four years helping small businesses recover before forcing them to provide health insurance for their employees they can’t today afford, I think he would win this year’s election by a landslide.

A Local Angle

I will say that here in New Tampa, I definitely see signs of financial recovery. New businesses keep opening to replace shuttered ones and more of those businesses are hiring new employees and spending money locally to advertise themselves in these pages. And, although the housing market may never go back to pre-2007 levels, local real estate professionals like Tom Bosso of New Tampa Realty (see page 32) say local housing prices are rising and that homes aren’t sitting unsold for as long as they had been the last two or three years.

But, is that enough for me to vote for or endorse Obama to have four more years in office? I’m not so sure. As a member of the middle class, I admit I’m concerned about Romney’s record of shuttering American companies and shipping U.S. jobs to China when he led Bain Capital. Nor do I believe the wealthiest Americans should continue to pay lower tax rates than teachers and firefighters.

On the other hand, Romney’s record as a one-term Governor of Massachusetts was pretty good, although it was, admittedly, a little easier to have a good record before the financial crisis hit. If I was living in Massachusetts in 2007, I would’ve liked to have seen Gov, Romney seek a second term to see if he could’ve kept my state in better “shape” through those nationwide “lean” years. But, because he already had decided to take his first chance at running for president, we’ll never know if he could’ve made a difference there.

But, Romney says he knows how to get the country working and it seems a lot of Americans either believe he can and will accomplish that goal. Or, a lot of us at least believe he would do a better job than the current president at getting us back to work. And, having the public’s confidence in your abilities is something that can help speed our recovery. Although I don’t predict the doom and gloom that most Republicans do if Pres. Obama wins four more years in office, I still also believe that change can be a good thing.

I therefore endorse Mitt Romney to be our next President.

Sadly, I have not had the time I need to chat with any of the candidates for our local offices, so I don’t feel qualified this time around to make my usual endorsements. I will say that State Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-New Tampa) has always been our area’s best friend in office wherever he’s been elected to serve, but I do appreciate having a Democratic candidate (Mark Danish, D-New Tampa) who also is a local resident and who suffers with the same issues we do every day. Without chatting with Mr. Danish about what he knows and doesn’t know about our needs here, however, I can’t in all good conscience endorse him. The good news is that whoever wins the new (New Tampa previously was in District 60) District 63 seat will at least have New Tampa’s best interest at heart. I know Shawn will again do a great job of representing us if he wins, but without ever meeting with or speaking to Danish, I don’t feel it’s fair to make an endorsement in this race.

Deciphering Amendments

One thing I definitely do not support, however, is any proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution that you have to be a legal scholar to understand (especially, this year, Amendments 4 & 5, which I will vote against).

I do, however, endorse Amendment 9, which was sponsored by Harrison in the state legislature and which would grant a full property tax exemption to the surviving spouses of military veterans who die while on active duty and to the surviving spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty.

Look for assistant editor Matt Wiley’s “translations” of all eleven proposed amendments to Florida’s Constitution at

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