The race arrives in Florida

2012-01-26 09:01
Florida will present a very different landscape to the Republican presidential nominees, as it is the first really large and important state the race has yet been to. It costs big bucks to win this state, and it will probably come down to a two-horse race as neither Ron Paul or Rick Santorum have the funds to advertise on the state’s ten media channels. This will really be the Mitt Romney versus Newt Gingrich show.

Paul and Santorum will also only hesitantly invest in the state as it lost half of its delegates due to moving the date of its primary. As opposed to 100 delegates, Florida will only award 50. To put that into perspective, Iowa was worth 28, New Hampshire was worth 12 and South Carolina was worth 23. So whoever wins Florida will lead by quite some margin – enough for the press to make a lot of noise, anyway – going into 4 February caucuses in Maine and Nevada.

The reduction in delegates should turn Santorum and Paul off from committing huge resources. Not only is Florida too expensive, and will award half its delegates, but it is a winner-takes-all state, which means that whoever finishes first will snip all fifty delegates. Santorum and Romney are arguing this, but it’s unlikely anything will change.

Much like the lead up to South Carolina, Gingrich has rapidly eroded Mitt Romney’s poll lead. In fact, most polls put Gingrich in the lead of a state Romney led by a fat margin one week ago. But during Monday night’s debate, Romney managed to land a few blows on Gingrich, especially relating to his time spent at Freddie Mac, which was one of the major entities blamed for the US’ draining housing market. In a state where 43% of homeowners are underwater (meaning they can’t refinance their loans because the house’s value has dropped below what they owe) and another sizeable chunk of homeowners are facing foreclosure, ties to one of the main government bodies, particularly in a lobbyist position (which you will hear Romney cover ad nauseum), is rather poisonous.

One of the other main narratives will be an appeal to Hispanic voters – Hispanic people make up approximately 20% of the Florida’s population. One of the ways to do this is to discuss the sensitive topic of immigration law, to which Republican candidates tend to remain hardliners. Mitt Romney claims he is the furthest right out of the four remaining contenders, and believes in an “amnesty” system where people who have been in America for a long time must still go home and re-apply for permission to be in the US. Newt Gingrich has a slightly softer stance, and claims that immigrants, illegal or otherwise, may be granted amnesty if they have been in the US for more than 25 years, and have contributed to society through taxation or military service. Gingrich said during a debate on 22 November, “If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.” Ron Paul is the only candidate against building a fence along the entire border between the USA and Mexico, but as we mentioned earlier, he is unlikely to gain much traction in Florida. Incidentally, Obama has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants: 30% more than George Bush’s second term and nearly double Bush’s first term. Hispanic voters are also the fastest growing electoral demographic in the USA, and according to a recent ABC/Univision poll, Romney leads amongst them.

One other factor which is difficult to quantify is the presence of Marco Rubio, a Senator, arguably the most high profile Hispanic Republican in the US. Rubio has not endorsed any candidate, and is unlikely to, but speculation is that he may be willing to run as a vice-president in spite of repeated denials on the subject. As I have argued before, picking a candidate of a certain race is unlikely to swing the entire electorate. However, Rubio will have an influence in the national election in November, as he has successfully courted the vote of the Tea Party in Florida, and supports Arizona’s controversial immigration reform – which, incidentally, the Obama administration has gone to court over. Rubio has influence – he talked Newt Gingrich into pulling an attack advert about Mitt Romney off the airwaves at the end of 2011, and he convinced the candidates not to take part in a debate sponsored by Univision, the USA’s biggest Spanish television network.

The candidates have another debate on Thursday, before the primary on Tuesday 31 January, and the attacks will be loaded. A new addition to the Romney quiver has been an accusation that Newt Gingrich only attacks the media, a continual conservative gripe, because it is easy. Gingrich has been warlike in his treatment of debate moderators, and Romney said on Wednesday, “It’s very easy to talk down a moderator. The moderator asks a question and has to sit by and take whatever you send to them.” As Gingrich is leading, it’s unlikely he’ll change tactics that are working, ie. speaking about Romney’s change of tack on many an issue, how Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is based on legislation Romney passed while governor of Massachusetts, and his record at Bain capital. We’ll probably also hear the odd quip about his tax returns.

Florida is impossible to predict. While Gingrich is currently leading in the polls, Romney has five days to play catch up, and having witnessed how far these candidates are prepared to go to trash each other, we could be in for some great TV during the next Republican presidential debate on Thursday night.

Read more on:    ron paul  |  newt gingrich  |  simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  rick santorum  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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