On the Ground in Florida

Florida is the fourth most populous state in America, yet it's still pushing to become more relevant. Despite the GOP's objections, party leaders in Florida recently moved up their 2012 primary to be among the first five nominating contests and thus to play a crucial role.

And why not? Florida "represents" America well. It has ten distinct media markets, four million registered Republicans out of 19 million citizens, and a record turnout of over two million is expected on January 31.

Floridians are truly a blur of American diversity: old and young, rural and urban, white and black, Jewish and Christian, Jill the Boca Raton barista and Jim the Apalachicola carpenter.

Ethnically, Florida is nearly two-thirds white; the U.S. is 69% white. Floridians are 17% Hispanic; Americans are 13% Hispanic. Floridians are 15% black; the country is 12% black.

And while Florida is the "deepest" south on the U.S. map, an accurate local expression describes the population as becoming more "southern" as you move north.

Older folks are prevalent, and as in any state, they vote. Florida has the largest Jewish population outside of New York and California, including many elderly Jews with various priorities and backgrounds. Growing rapidly every decade since statehood, transplants came not only from the North and Midwest but also from outside the country -- including from Cuba. Florida's Cubans are known to vote more conservatively than other Hispanic groups due to their first- and second-hand knowledge of Fidel Castro's regime.

Included among Cuban Republicans are former U.S. Senator and GOP chair Mel Martinez and current Senator Marco Rubio, a possible vice presidential nominee.

Florida is also home to outspoken representatives like Col. Allen West, controversial radicals like Alcee Hastings, and staunch partisans like DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Former recent governors include the polarizing independent Charlie Crist and the popular Jeb Bush.

Like most of the south, conservative politics were historically common, though the state supported Democrats until World War II. However, Floridians have voted for the Republican nominee all but four times in the past 15 presidential elections.

Alongside Ohio, Florida has been considered the key state to win for the past two decades. And no one needs a reminder of the November 2000 vote.

Florida -- where polls have already opened -- gained two electoral votes for 2012, making it the only state not named Texas to add more than one. Florida has acquired at least one electoral vote in every census since 1930.

Clearwater Beach

Charles Dennis is a 28-year-old police officer residing in Clearwater, the northern portion of the Tampa Bay area -- the state's second most populous region, with over four million residents. In 2008, Dennis lived in Indiana and voted for John McCain in the primary and general election. In 2012, he's supporting Mitt Romney:

Romney is as old as most grandpas, but still has the looks of your cool uncle. ... He's been quite successful in his endeavors and has been groomed all his life for this position. Romney's also the only candidate to place highly in each primary so far.

Recently married, Dennis values electability most during the primary, but national security and immigration reform are his top issues.