An op-ed piece in Florida Today posited that the current presidential election could be decided by how much the presidential candidates support NASA and space exploration. The thesis goes something like this:
Florida is a swing state, the electoral votes of which could be the difference between winning and losing the next election.
The I-4 corridor with Brevard County on its east end is filled with registered voters whose jobs depend not only on NASA but the nascent commercial #Space launch industry.
Hence, the candidate who appeals the most to the population in and around the Kennedy Space Center would have a more than even chance to win Florida and hence the election. Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio are similarly situated to be influenced by the space issue, at least so goes the thesis.
The idea seems sound in theory, but in practice using space as a lever to get votes has thus far left much to be desired. During the 2012 election cycle, then candidate Newt Gingrich stood up before an audience in Florida and proposed building a commercial moon base by the year 2020. The idea seemed sensible to most aerospace insiders. A return to the moon had been on NASA’s agenda before President Obama took the Earth’s nearest neighbor off the table two years previously. The effort would have been to direct benefit to Florida and a number of other delegate-rich states.
Mitt Romney, Gingrich’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination, heaped foul scorn on the moon base idea, calling it “zany” and suggesting that anyone who proposed it to him would be fired. The last was ironic since Romney had a committee of aerospace heavy hitters supporting him who were return to the moon advocates. In any event, the usually eloquent Gingrich was blindsided by the attack and seemed incapable of offering a real answer in support of the moon base. In short order, Gingrich’s candidacy along with the moon base propose sunk out of sight. Romney went on the win the nomination and then lose the general election to President Barack Obama.
More ironically, recent studies by a think tank called Next-Gen Space and MIT support Gingrich’s idea for a moon base. He would have profited from having those studies available to refute Romney.
The bottom line is that anyone using space as an issue to get votes needs to do so with great care. He or she needs to have all the arguments for any new space initiatives ready to be brought to bear when the inevitable criticism arise. The ability to defend the proposal would be the difference between being a visionary statesman and a national joke featured on Saturday Night Live.