Newt Gingrich’s thorough pounding in South Carolina has set up Florida as the next important primary. If Gingrich is able to win Florida as well, then Mitt Romney will be in a heap of trouble.
At this point a Gingrich victory is an eminently possible event. Throughout November and December Gingrich was posting enormous leads in Florida; for some reason the seniors there seem to really like him. Romney’s strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire lifted him to the lead for a while. But now Gingrich is leading again. The example of South Carolina, where Romney lost a steady lead in less than a week, shows how quickly things can shift.
Florida is a very diverse state, much more so than any of the other states which have voted so far. Its population is large enough, and each part of the state different enough, that it could very easily be split into several different states with unique cultures.
Below are some thoughts the voting patterns of each part of Florida.
Northern Florida is the part which has most in common with the South; indeed, much of it is an extension of the Deep South. As the example of South Carolina indicates, Romney for some reason does very poorly in the South. In 2008, he placed a poor third in a number of Deep South states.
It’s interesting to ask whether Gingrich has any special appeal to the South. Gingrich is a Southerner who spent most of his life in Georgia. On the other hand, he doesn’t sound like a Southerner.
One would expect Romney to do especially poorly in northern Florida, given his weakness in the South. There is a catch, however. In 2008 Romney actually won the Jacksonville area by double-digits while losing the Panhandle badly. Whether he can replicate this performance this year is open to question. Of course, given that Romney lost Florida to John McCain, he must.
Covering most of Central Florida, the I-4 Corridor refers to the I-4 highway running through the region to connect all the major cities.
This is generally swing territory in the presidential election, and it will probably be swing territory in the upcoming primary as well. Romney did decently in the Orlando area in 2008, tying John McCain. He did worse in the Tampa and Hillsborough region. Whoever wins the I-4 Corridor in 2012 will probably win the Republican primary. It will be where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
South Florida is the most populous and diverse part of the state. Mitt Romney cratered in this region during the 2008 Republican primaries; in Miami-Dade County, he actually did worse than Rudy Giuliani (remember him?) According to exit polls, Romney failed to break into double-digits amongst the Cuban-American vote.
Obviously, if this happens again Romney will lose the state. As for Newt Gingrich, it will be very revealing to see how he does in this part of the state. Gingrich might be attractive to conservative retirees who remember his battles with Bill Clinton. His strength with Cuban-Americans, on the other hand, is completely a mystery. Gingrich has never had to appeal to Hispanic voters in his life before; it will be a very fascinating to see how he does with them.
All in all, the way that South Florida will vote is pretty much up in the air.
The good news for Romney is that absentee voting has been continuously going on throughout the period in which he held the polling lead, before his loss in South Carolina. If there is anything that will lift him to victory, this is it.
Finally, there is the Hispanic vote in Florida. While most voters so far in the Republican primary belong to hard-core Republican constituencies, Hispanics do not. The performance of the eventual Republican nominee among Hispanics in Florida (especially non-Cubans) will provide an extremely important insight to the general election.