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Monday, January 30, 2012

Florida Primary Preview

Here is your Florida Primary Primer--seven questions that interest me heading into the Florida Primary:

1. How will Florida's political geography break down? Florida, politically, is a fascinating state. So often we look at states and see a rather monolithic structure (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Massachusetts, most states in the Midwest), but just as often we see a two-stone makeup (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, and others with a couple deep blue cities surrounded by a massive red countryside). Rare is the state, however, that can be broken into three demographic areas; Florida can.

The Sunshine State has three relatively neat divisions. Up in the panhandle, we see a Southern conservatism, one that more closely resembles South Carolinian ideologies than they do the beliefs of their South Floridian statemates. It's evangelical country, and we can expect Santorum and Gingrich to do well there. How much better Gingrich does than Santorum might determine Gingrich's overall chances at the state. Perhaps Gingrich will benefit the most here, as his Georgian blood was bred next door.

Moving south to the central part of Florida, we move into Transplant Country. These are Seniors from northern areas and cities throughout the country who moved down for their near- and/or full-fledged retirement years. Here we can obviously expect Mitt Romney to do well, especially since a strong fiscal manager seems to be their best bet to ensure those social security checks keep coming in.

Third and most southern we have diversity. There are whites and Latinos, Christian and Jewish voters, native Floridians and elderly transplants. This will be where the state is won, and of all the demographics in this area, it's the Latinos that are most politically volatile. Which transitions to...

2. Who will win the Latino vote? The Washington Post writes that the Latino voting bloc is up for grabs. While historically the Floridian Latino community was comprised mostly of conservative Cubans--usually anti-Castro refuges--recently cities like Miami have welcomed a wider diversity of Hispanics, and the second generation Cubans aren't as conservative as their parents were. Indeed, a sizeable 13.1 percent of Florida is Latino, says the Pew Hispanic Center, and a majority of them are now registered Democrats, a contrast from six years earlier when they largely sided with the GOP. Thus, what would presumably have been a Gingrich/Santorum vote may edge toward Romney.

With the other two sections of Florida seemingly split between Gingrich and Romney, the candidate who consolidates the Latino vote is likely to be the overall winner of Florida and would earn all 50 of the state's winner-take-all delegates. Can Romney hold onto their moderating opinions, though? The LA Times is skeptical, citing Romney's extraordinarily wealth as a turn-off to working Latino families. His father might have been a Mexican immigrant, but his aggressive stance toward immigration could hurt him.

Still, if Latinos are moderating in Florida, I see Romney winning close to 40 percent of them, with Gingrich about 10 points behind, and Santorum and Paul splitting the remaining third. Watch for these numbers in the Exit Polling. They might make the difference.

3. Does Romney win convincingly enough to wrap up the nomination? A double-digit win might make his nomination a formality, and recent Florida polls seem to make this a probability. A narrow win, however--even with a winner-take-all state--will keep his challengers very much viable. What he doesn't want is a close second place finish from Gingrich with Santorum way back of the two. If Santorum subsequently drops out, Gingrich would finally consolidate all the conservative vote, and he'd do it early enough where it could make a difference in the month leading up to Super Tuesday. Romney either needs to be the presumptive nominee by Super Tuesday, or he needs the conservative base to stay divided through the March 6 contest.

4. Can Gingrich stay alive with a distant second place? He says he will take his candidacy all the way to the Republican Convention. He says that the delegate math plain isn't there for Romney. "There’s no evidence anywhere that Romney’s getting anywhere near 50 percent. Gradually, conservatives are consolidating." It's actually a great point, one worth taking a closer look at if Romney wins and Gingrich and/or Santorum press on. If Romney doesn't win 50 percent of the delegates by the last primary (June 26 in Utah), they must settle the nomination at the convention.

Now, conventional wisdom (see what I did there?) is that once a nominee does well enough in the early states, his competitors fall by the wayside and support the leader. But if Gingrich takes his Melvillian vengeance to the extreme--and plucky Ron Paul remains to shape the debate for as long as possible--Romney's push for 50 percent of the delegates could be limited, and we could find ourselves not knowing the nominee heading into Tampa convention at the end of August.

It's worth noting that this isn't totally far-fetched. Gingrich, after all, still leads national polls. He says as long as Romney isn't able to focus on a state and "carpet bomb" the airwaves with negative attacks, he's the preferred Republican on the real issues. We'll see.

5. Can Santorum do well enough to be a viable "Anti-RomNewt"? Is it me, or does it seem like more than half the party can't stand Romney and the other half can't stand Gingrich? It goes without saying that about 10 percent of the party loves Ron Paul, but the other 90 percent would rank him fourth of the four. Is it possible, then, that the entire party can agree on Rick Santorum as their second favorite and, more importantly, dub him the "I could live with him" candidate? It's possible.

I think Rick Santorum is banking on the party ultimately coming to that realization. He's hoping that they'll eventually say, "There's no way we can nominate a Massachusetts moderate Mormon or a hothead former Speaker who has twice as many enemies as friends." And if they do, Santorum is waiting there with open arms. That's why I think Santorum stays in this race, even after finishing a distant third in Florida.

6. What can we expect from Ron Paul? The most passionate eight percent of the vote you've ever seen.

7. What's next? Caucuses! Specifically, Nevada on February 4th, Maine starting on the 4th and going to the 11th (weird), and Colorado and Minnesota on the 7th. That's 128 delegates between them, which is more than the first four caucuses combined (thanks to Florida's 50 percent penalty). Starting on Saturday, it'll be a fun week if Romney hasn't sewn it up. And you know what caucuses means... Ron Paul supporters!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Happy Florida!

-IC

2 comments:

Brett said...

Ron Paul prediction turns out to have been pretty good, in terms of both accuracy of forecast and also pithy humor.

IC said...

Well played, Brett.

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