FLORIDA 29 Electoral Votes 
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Florida was again a hotly contested battleground state, and indeed was not called for Obama by the Associated Press until Nov. 10.

There was considerable pre-election maneuvering.  In May 2011, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed HB 1355, the omnibus elections bill signed into law; the legislation made about 80 changes to election law including a more compressed eight-day early voting period (+) and stricter requirements on third-party voter registration organizations (+); both of those points were litigated.  There was also controversy over efforts to remove non-U.S. citizens from Florida's voter database (+). 

Republicans had a competitive presidential primary campaign including the marquee P5 event in Orlando in late Sept. 2011.  By the time the primary occured on Jan. 31, 2012 there were three major active candidates; Romney obtained 46.4% of the vote, defeating Gingrich (31.9%) and Santorum (13.3%).  Because Romney did not secure the nomination until April, he pretty much pulled his resources from the state, while the Obama campaign continued to build its organization. 

Much of the Republican messaging from the primaries and on into the general election focused on the economy (+).  The unemployment rate was higher than the national average throughout the year, and although it steadily trended downward, from 9.6% in Jan. 2012 (8.3% nationally) to 8.1% in Nov. 2012 (7.8% nationally), there were still over three-quarters of a million people unemployed.  The collapse of the housing market continued to afflict Florida's economy as well.  According to RealtyTrac's U.S. Foreclosure Market Report™ for October 2012, "Florida posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rate for the second month in a row, with one in every 312 housing units with a foreclosure filing in October."

Gov. Rick Scott's approval ratings were at about 40-percent, and Romney kept his distance.  Florida Democrats sought to play up a Romney-Scott link (+). There were also some stories about a somewhat awkward relationship between the Romney campaign and Gov. Scott.  For example, a Bloomberg story on June 21, 2012 described how Gov. Romney's message of economic woe ran counter to Scott's touting of economic improvements.  The article also cited Scott's 39-percent approval rating and stated that "Romney’s staff has concluded there’s no benefit in appearing with Scott." (Michael C. Bender. "Romney Campaign Said to Ask Scott to Downplay Job Gains." Bloomberg, June 21, 2012 +). 

Republicans hoped for a boost from their convention, held in Tampa-St. Petersburg from Aug. 27-30, 2012.  Sen. Marco Rubio was among those frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Romney.  Rubio gave the speech introducing Romney at the convention.  In the fall campaign, he was a frequent surrogate for Romney around the country.  Romney also did events with former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Republicans received some bad publicity in late September when Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher discovered some faulty voter registration forms that had been submitted for Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm working for the Republican Party of Florida.  This led to a criminal investigation. (+)

The Obama campaign's vaunted ground game was much in evidence, as they ultimately had 104 field offices around the state and, according to state director Ashley Walker "nearly 800 full-time staff and a $50 million budget."  Democrats reported out-registering Republicans for eight consecutive months (+).

Among their many visits, the candidates fit in quite a few fundraisers.  During the final seven months of the campaign (from April 10) the Obama-Biden principals did at least 12 fundraising events in Florida and the Romney-Ryan principals did at least 21 fundraising events.  Among the Romney events was a fundraising dinner on May 17 hosted by Marc J. Leder at his home in Boca Raton; this was to gain huge noteriety when a video secretly taped there was released in September.  Both candidates also did bus tours in the state.  During a two-day bus tour on Sept. 8-9, Obama found himself in a tight squeeze during an unscheduled stop at Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce when owner Scott Van Duzer gave him a bear hug that lifted him off the ground.

The ad campaign was intense.  The Smart Media Group reported that from April 2-Nov. 6, 2012, $191 million was spent on presidential advertising in Florida, second only to Ohio.  According to SMG, Orlando ($53 million), Tampa ($51 million) and Miami ($27 million) were the fourth, fifth and tenth markets in the country in ad dollars spent (+). Similarly, the Wesleyan Media Project (1, 2) reported that for the period from Oct. 1-29, Orlando, Tampa and Miami were among the top ten media markets by volume of ads in the presidential race.

Further attention focused on Florida on Oct. 22, 2012 when Obama and Romney met for the Commission on Presidential Debates' third and final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton.

The Hispanic Vote
The Hispanic vote was critical.  According to the Census Bureau's estimate as of July 1, 2011 22.9% of the state's population is of Hispanic origin (4,355,525 of 19,057,542) (+).  Much attention focused on South Florida; according to the 2010 Census, as highlighted by he NALEO Educational Fund, Miami-Dade County has a Hispanic population of 1,623,859, accounting for 65.0% of the county's total population of 2,496,435.  94.7% of the population of the City of Hialeah in Miami-Dade is Hispanic. (+)  The NALEO Educational Fund projected that Latinos would account for 18.3% of Florida's vote in 2012 (+). 

The Hispanic vote has been changing.  The Cuban Americans who fled Castro are aging, and their children are now active.  There has also been a large influx of Puerto Ricans.  Steve Schale, who directed Obama's 2008 Florida campaign and served as a senior advisor on his 2012 campaign, analyzed Census numbers for 2000 and 2010 from the Orlando area (Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties).  During that period, the population grew from about 1.4 million to 1.85 million.  Schale wrote, "Of that 436,000 resident increase, 119K can be attributed to Puerto Rican growth.  In other words, roughly 27% of the total growth in the Orlando area comes from Puerto Ricans."1 

Evidence of the importance of the Hispanic vote can be seen in the fact that both Romney (Sept. 19) and Obama (Sept. 20) participated in Univison News/Facebook's "Meet the Candidates" at the University of Miami.

The African American Vote
According to the Census Bureau estimate as of July 1, 2012, 16.5% of the Florida's population was black.  While the African American vote in Florida is sometimes overlooked, Schale asserts that they too were an important part of the equation for Democrats.  His analysis of the Orlando area found that of the 436,000 resident increase between 2000 and 2010, 106,000 were African Americans, particularly from the Caribbean. 

Another key demographic group was seniors.  According to the 2010 Census, 17.3% of the population was 65 and over (3.26 million of 18.801 million); that is the highest proportion of any state (next highest was West Virginia at 16.0%). (+)  Medicare is important to this group.  However, instead of a serious discussion about how to control the growth of Medicare spending, both the Romney and Obama campaigns frequently resorted to "Mediscare" attacks. (see FactCheck.org)  At the same time, the youth vote was not ignored (+).

The Jewish Vote
Florida also has a significant Jewish population (over 600,000 people or about 3.4%, compared to 2.1% nationally (+).  Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition waged significant campaigns targeting these voters.  According to the RJC:

"Hundreds of RJC volunteers conducted phone banks, door-to-door literature drops, and sign-waving sessions on busy corners in key areas of the state. The RJC ran "My Buyer's Remorse" ads on broadcast and cable television (1,2,3,4) and print ads (+) in Jewish newspapers. We sent out mailers to hundreds of thousands of Florida voters and put up "Obama, Oy Vey!" billboards (+) along major routes in South Florida." 

And the NJDC reported:

"We now know that over six weeks, a shift in the Jewish margin from Democrats to Republicans of up to 117,000 Jewish Floridians was stopped with the facts—plain and simple. NJDC mailed almost 400,000 pieces of fact-based mail into Florida in the final weeks of this campaign, and we called almost 70,000 Jewish households in Florida—all strategically, efficiently targeted at those persuadable Jews who could possibly fall victim to the smears circulated against the President. During that same time we ran...online banner ads, sponsored emails, and more—most only visible to residents in Florida, some only visible to carefully targeted, potentially undecided Jewish households." (+PDF)

Census Trends Favored Democrats
in his April 2012 analysis cited above, the Obama campaign's Steve Schale  wrote  that the census trends "are driving registration and voting behavior."  Taking into account Hispanic and African American vote, he observed after the campaign that, "[T]he demographics alone would keep the state competitive.  We were going to have a better electorate [than in 2008]."  Meanwhie, Republicans held that a loss of support among independents and key constituencies would cost Obama the state.  For example, a July 2012 Romney campaign memo maintained that "the President’s 2008 base – represented in Florida’s diverse communities - is crumbling (+)."  Of course, the Republican arguments fell flat on Election Day; when it came to numbers and metrics the Obama team had a clear edge.  After the election, Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina noted that his campaign's analysts had come within 0.2% of predicting the number of votes that Obama would get in the state.

Newspaper Endorsements
At least five Florida newspapers which had endorsed Obama in 2008 supported the Republican ticket in 2012:
Miami Herald (Oct. 26, 2012)   160,988 (44) +
Tampa Bay Times (Oct. 19, 2012)   299,497 (18) +
The Florida Times-Union [Jacksonville] (Oct. 26, 2012)   98,580 (77) +
Florida Today [Brevard County] (Oct. 27, 2012) +
*Naples Daily News (Oct. 28, 2012) +
Orlando Sentinel (Oct. 19, 2012)   173,576 (41) +
*Pensacola News Journal (Oct. 26, 2012) +
South Florida Sun-Sentinel [Fort Lauderdale] (Oct. 26, 2012)   165,974 (42) +
Tampa Tribune (Oct. 21, 2012)   144,510 (50) +
Also note: The Times-Union split 3-3 on an endorsement in 2008.
Bradenton Herald (Oct. 26, 2012) +

Long Ballot and Long Lines
Florida voters faced a long ballot.  In addition to Obama and Romney, there were ten other candidates for president (together they obtained about 0.9% of the vote), and there were 11 constitutional amendments. 

Early voting started on Oct. 27.  Although courts had upheld the changes to early voting, long lines in the early voting period led Democrats to again seek an extension of early voting, but Gov. Scott declined to take action (+).  However, in some instances the reduced early voting period may have actually boosted turnout, evidenced by the "Operation Lemonade" effort led by Bishop Victor T. Curry (+).  The Secretary of State's office reported that more than 2.4 million early votes were cast and nearly 2.4 million absentee votes were cast, both records.  Thus, of a total turnout of 8,539,274 more than half of Floridians voted prior to Election Day. 

On Election Day itself there were problems with long lines and tabulating votes in some areas.  The Orlando Sentinel reported that based on an analysis of data it collected "at least 201,000 voters likely gave up in frustration on Nov. 6," and that the situation was worst in Lee County where the last precinct did not close until 2:54 a.m. Wednesday.2 

Gov. Scott called for improvements in the election process including more early voting days, more early voting locations, and shorter ballots (+).  On Feb. 4, 2013 Secretary of State Detzner presented his recommendations, and these will be taken up by the governor and the legislature.

1. Steve Schale.  "Orlando Rising."  Steve Schale blog, April 15, 2012.
2. Scott Powers and David Damron.  "Analysis: 201,000 in Florida didn't vote because of long lines." Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 23, 2012.