ESTERO — Never one to shy away from bold statements or controversy, the Ragin' Cajun fired off plenty of criticism and advice for the Mitt Romney camp during his visit to Southwest Florida on Monday night.
Political pundit and Democratic strategist James Carville spoke to a crowd of about 200 members of the Tiger Bay Club at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point. He touched on everything from sports to his marriage to conservative commentator Mary Matalin, but most of his speech was geared toward the presidential election.
"I love politics, and I'm probably the only guy in the world that likes politicians," Carville said. "Are some of them crooks, or egomaniacs? Yeah, and I understand that people are frustrated with both parties. But not all of them are bad. It's an admirable profession, and there have been many admirable people in it."
Carville, who emerged as a prominent national figure as the lead strategist for Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign, told the conservative crowd that a poor GOP convention hurt Romney, but with six weeks until the election, anyone who thinks the Republican challenger can't turn things around doesn't know what they're talking about.
"If you look at the average, Romney is about three points down (in polls). No one is three points down with 50 days to go and thinks they're out of it," he said. "He's just got to perform much better than he's been performing."
Mike Himschoot, a member of the Tiger Bay Club from Fort Myers, said that while the majority of the group disagrees with Carville's politics, he was an entertaining speaker.
"It was a more Republican room, so I think there was a lot of disagreement with what he said, but I think he's good for politics in general and important for people to realize that everyone has their own opinion," Himschoot said.
Stephanie Kissinger, a Bonita Springs resident and new member of the club, said she felt fortunate to have such a prominent political figure speak to the group.
"I’ve always been interested in Mr. Carville and his wife, and I think regardless of your politics we’re fortunate to have him come to our area," Kissinger said. "I think you can have differing viewpoints in the same room and remain civil and debate about it. Mr. Carville and his wife are a great example of that."
Of his right-to-left marriage, Carville said passion is more important than politics.
"People always ask me how I can be married to somebody with such different views? And the truth is that I could never be married to someone who agrees with me all the time anyway," he said. "I don’t care if I disagree with someone, I care that they’re passionate about what they do."
Carville was most critical of Republicans when it came to the subject of voter identification laws and purges, which he believes is a flawed strategy and will hurt the party in a state with a large minority population.
"The Republicans have panicked because it has dawned on them that the demographics are going against them," he said. "So as opposed to trying to appeal to people like that, they're trying to keep them from voting. That's a very bad long-range strategy."
Carville's analysis is that the economy and health-care will be the issues that determine the election and Florida's 29 electoral votes are especially pivotal for Romney, who would have to win all other swing states if he were to lose here.
"Obama can lose Florida and it's still possible to win the election. Romney can't lose Florida. It's the biggest prize that's out there by far," he said.