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Florida, Florida, Florida

Date posted: Monday, June 25, 2012

Will the election hinge entirely on the Sunshine State?

323px-Florida_Presidential_Election

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s been twelve years since Florida decided the 2000 Election. I still remember Election Night, with Tim Russert telling NBC viewers that it all came down to “Florida, Florida, Florida.” If the late Russert were still with us, he might very well be saying the same thing for Election 2012.

Florida’s importance goes beyond its electoral capacity. Of course, it is the weightiest swing state, and I’ve written three times (here, here, and here) about how important all of those swing states are in regards to the electoral math. Florida’s importance, however, goes beyond its 29 electoral votes. It’s the front line of this election. It’s a microcosm of the national contest. Florida, like our country, is diverse. Florida has a slowly improving economy. Florida has blue cities but also deeply conservative areas in its panhandle, a region that marks the edge of the Deep South. Florida has many Latino voters, a constituency given lots of attention in not only Florida, but also in other undecided states like Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado.[1] In sum, where Florida goes, the nation will probably go, too.

Let’s start by looking at the Floridian economy. It resembles the American one. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen over the last year and now rests at 8.6 percent, down from double digits early in the recession. Of course, an 8.6 rate is by no means sterling, but there has been a marked improvement. Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, boasts about this improvement in his 2012 re-election campaign. In fact, what he says sounds just like what President Obama has been trying to sell to the country: “Things are getting better.”

But you might notice a sort of contradiction here. How can a Republican, in an effort to be re-elected, make the same argument that his party is critical of Obama for using? Both are chief executives presiding at the same time. If Republicans say the economy’s progress is too slow and has nothing to do with the President, how can a Republican executive claim to be the source of nearly identical improvement for his state? And if the answer is that a governor is more to thank or blame for a state’s progress or lack thereof, then why criticize the President on his handling of the economy? His role would be merely peripheral when compared to the 50 governors of the country.

Well, according to Bloomberg news, the Romney Campaign realizes this dilemma, and they have told Scott to “tone down” his message about Florida’s improving economy. They worry that if Floridians think things are getting better, they might re-elect Scott, but they might also re-elect the President. And since Florida’s 29 electoral votes are of primary importance in this presidential election, that could be an enormous loss for the GOP, even if they do keep the state’s governor’s mansion.[2]

Meanwhile, the fight for Florida cannot overlook the state’s sizeable Hispanic population. With African Americans so firmly aligned behind the President, Republicans are hoping to make inroads in the Latino community. It’s a bloc that some consider a “swing vote” and the key to the election.

However, with Obama’s recent leniency toward some young illegal immigrants, it’s hard to imagine Latinos remaining as swing voters. While they generally preferred the President before, he saw a surge in polling since his announcement. According to ABC News, Romney is estimated to need about 40 percent of support from Latinos to win the election, but now, in the battleground states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia, Obama outpolls Romney 63 to 27 percent with Latino voters. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they felt more favorable about Obama than they did before his initiative; only nine percent felt less favorable.

To counter this momentum, Romney and other Republicans charge Obama with playing politics in an election year.[3] In an effort to combat the flood of Hispanic support toward the President, the GOP has reminded voters of their economic situation. There is still over 10 percent unemployment for Latinos across the country, over two percent more than that of the general population. The number of unemployed Latinos has climbed from 2.2 million when the President took office to 2.7 million now. The Romney Campaign is running ads in cities with large Latino communities arguing that they might not be better off than they were four years ago. In other words, Republicans still feels like the economy is the winning issue, regardless of the targeted demographic.

But Romney faces an uphill battle. Latinos were already cool on Romney, and perhaps Obama’s announcement sealed their support. Remember, the Republican Primary pushed Romney right, and Reuters now writes how Romney’s trying to “soften his tone” on the issue. Back in the primary, he was trying to out-Republican candidates like Herman Cain, who joked (maybe?) about electrifying the border while attacking Rick Perry on his moderate immigration platform. He has four more months to try to make up the significant ground lost to the President. With Florida expected to be so tight, and with millions of Latino voters in the state, the immigration issue has taken paramount importance.

Add all this up, and it is no stretch to see why, after losing some steam, Marco Rubio is making a comeback in VP speculation. If Republicans wants to swing for the fences, Rubio is their guy. A handsome (so I’m told), conservative, Latino senator of Florida? It’s almost too good to be true.[4]

Florida has become the front line of this campaign. And why not? Florida has sided with the winning president in every election but one in the last 50 years and two in the last 80.[5] For the most part, where the Sunshine State goes, so goes the nation.[6] Come November, it might once again all come down to “Florida, Florida, Florida.”



[1] New Mexico is an astonishing 46 percent Latino. California and Texas are the next two most Hispanic states, each at just under 38 percent. The next four are Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, which each range from 21 to 30 percent Latino.

[3] Interestingly, this would mark the first time a president has ever played politics in an election year.

[4] I originally had him third in my Veepstakes column from April, and then moved him up to number two this month. I’ll inch him closer to Rob Portman at the top spot. Almost co-favorites. Almost. If you’re wondering why not #1, read Stephen Kurczy’s column here.

[5] George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Richard Nixon in 1960

[6] Only Nevada has a better record in that time-span, missing only in 1976 with their preference for Gerald Ford.

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Ian Cheney, Connecticut resident, wrote the Presidential Politics for America blog, which took a close look at the historic primaries of 2008 and 2012. Ian earned his B.A. in History and an M.A. in American Studies. He teaches honors history in southeast Connecticut.

View all posts by Ian Cheney →


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