"As the largest swing state in the nation, with 10 media markets and an electorate that is representative of the nation as a whole, Florida is always a critical test for presidential candidates and their campaigns. A candidate must to be able to win in Florida to win the White House. Our early primary ensures that Floridians will once again play a crucial role in selecting the GOP nominee." --RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry

Pushing to the Front

As they did in the 2008 cycle, Republican leaders in the Florida legislature looked to set an early primary.  On May 19, 2011 Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed an elections law (+) that among other provisions established a ten-person Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee which was to pick a date (between Jan. 3, 2012 and March 6, 2012) by October 1, 2011.  On Sept. 16, 2011 the members of the committee were announced (+).  In its efforts to maintain a more measured primary calendar, the RNC actively worked for months to restrain Florida efforts to hold an early primary, but it was all for naught.  On Sept. 30, 2011, the Date Selection Committee voted 7-2 to set the date of the presidential preference primary on January 31, 2012 in violation of RNC and DNC rules.

Shaping the Race

Even before the primary on January 31, Florida had a significant impact on the Republican race.  By moving the primary forward, Florida Republicans prompted the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to move the dates of their contests forward, compressing the calendar. 

The Republican Party of Florida's Presidency 5 (P5) event in Orlando on September 22-24, 2011 propelled businessman Herman Cain to the top tier of candidates and put a damper on Rick Perry's prospects even before his famous brain freeze episode. Almost 3,500 delegates from around Florida gathered for the event, and when the straw poll results were tallied Cain had finished a surprising first with 37.1% followed by Rick Perry (15.4%), Mitt Romney (14.0%) and others in the field following.

A Big State Poses Big Challenges

With a diverse population of 18.8 million, 67 counties and 10 media markets (+), Florida poses huge challenges to the campaigns that made it through the first-in-the nation contests.  A key question to look at is which campaigns have the resources to compete effectively. 

Hispanics comprise a significant proportion of the electorate.  According to Pew Hispanic Center analysis (+), in 2008 1,844,000 eligible voters (14.5% of the total) were Latino.  The Hispanic population of Miami-Dade County is over 1.5 million (behind only Los Angeles County, CA and Harris County, TX).

Eye on the Fall

The 2000 Bush v. Gore debacle in Florida highlighted the importance of the Sunshine State.  In 2010 Florida saw another closely fought race as Rick Scott (R) defeated Alex Sink (D) by a margin of 48.9% to 47.7%.  Florida will clearly be a battleground state in Fall 2012 (1, 2).  As a result of reapportionment following the 2010 Census, Florida has 29 electoral votes (an increase of two), tying it with New York as the third biggest block.  As a measure of Florida's importance in the Fall, Republicans selected Tampa-St. Petersburg as the site of their national convention; from Aug. 27-30, 2012 the state will again be center stage.




Key Dates

Sept. 12, 2011 - CNN/Tea Party Express Debate in Tampa, FL.

Sept. 22-24, 2011 - Presidency V Straw Poll plus FOX News/Google Debate in Orlando, FL.

Jan. 23, 2012 - NBC News, National Journal, St. Petersburg Times and Florida Council of 100 Debate in Tampa, FL.

Jan. 26, 2012 - CNN/RPOF Debate in Jacksonville, FL.