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.
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.
Paul Lucas is a self-employed resident of Tallahassee and former soldier who served in the 70s and 80s. A lifelong Floridian, Lucas supports Newt Gingrich:
I want a candidate who is going to seriously challenge Barack Obama, give no quarter in debate, while supporting American exceptionalism.
Lucas, who is black, voted for Mitt Romney in the 2008 primary because he thought the governor "was best situated to attract sufficient independents to defeat the Democrats while supporting our historic global role."
Lucas says he does not consciously concern himself with electability:
Given the financial crash and the Democrats' increasingly repugnant reliance upon class warfare, I suppose Gingrich is the most electable candidate. ... Foremost in my mind at present is the fact that Thomas Sowell seemed very supportive of Newt in an opinion piece I read last month.
National security and the economy are Lucas' top issues.
Fernando Botero is a Miami-based industrial engineer from Latin America who leans toward Romney:
Even if I believe none of the candidates represent a solid alternative to the incumbent, whom I still believe has the strongest chance right now, I like Romney’s balanced vision of the country’s domestic and international problems.
Botero's most relevant issues are international relations, commercial competitiveness, social matters, and education. In his late 50s, he’s excited about his first American election after immigrating in 2000 and becoming a citizen in 2010:
I’ve voted in my native country, but now my kids are building their own destinies here. ... Therefore, after 12 years of having materialized my aspirations of becoming part of America, I’m glad to be able to elect my leaders.
A native New Yorker, 30-year-old Jon Levy is a high school history teacher in Jacksonville. He also prefers the former Massachusetts governor, voting for him in the 2008 primary as well:
Romney's executive experience should serve the country well in tough economic times and help stimulate small business, which in turn will stimulate hiring. ... I think he will also help ensure government money is spent more prudently than it is now.
Levy also likes Rick Santorum, but does not see the former senator as a national candidate:
He might be one of the greatest local politicians in America, as he's able to go into states, run a great grassroots campaign, and do well. ... But I doubt he would be able to do that in the national election against Obama.
Levy says Romney is the most electable candidate nationally:
There's no doubt that Mitt Romney has the best chance at beating Obama. ... Romney got it done in a very liberal state, he has the look (we know it's important to a lot of Americans), the polish, and he has the gubernatorial experience.
Twenty-six-year-old Andres Arango is a graduate student in the Orlando area who plans to support Ron Paul:
In the economic realm, Paul's positions will benefit the country most. ... He's very firm on the issue of federal wastefulness and vowed to never raise taxes.
Originally from South America, Arango will also be voting in his first United States election. He is currently working toward a master's degree in economics:
I like the congressman's stance on free trade. ... He'll be a president that will finally tighten America's budget in order to stop accumulating debt, while allowing citizens to hold onto their wealth and create more opportunities for economic growth.
Though Rep. Paul is largely skipping Florida, Arango thinks the country is ready for "a radical change that will bring their jobs back":
Ron Paul can influence voters whose lifestyles have been affected by the crisis, but also those higher income folks whose wealth is constantly being threatened by the menace of increasing taxes.
Diverse views from diverse Republicans in a diverse state.