What the Sunshine State Will Illuminate
A look back at what we learned from South Carolina, and what we can look for in Florida.

Mitt Romney in Ormond Beach, Fla., Jan. 22, 2012


Jim Geraghty

Two: Running for president in Florida is on an entirely different scale than the preceding states. South Carolina represents the end of the primary season’s period of retail politicking. Last cycle, roughly 800,000 people voted in the GOP contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina; and then 1.9 million voted in the Republican primary in Florida. Already this year, the number of absentee ballots mailed in (185,000) exceeds the total number of votes in this year’s Iowa caucus (122,000). Moreover, Florida has 4 million registered Republicans.

“We’re incredibly diverse, the fourth most populous state in the country, and you have to run a real broad-based popular campaign — organization, grassroots, media, TV, phones, the works,” Cannon says. “We’re an extraordinarily diverse state, economically, demographically and geographically. You’ll see everything in Florida, from debates about controlling federal spending to Social Security to national defense — we have a large number of military bases — to strong views on immigration. We are a great composite of every major issue that will confront the nominee in a national campaign.”

Three: Expect attention to return to the economy, particularly the housing market. While South Carolina had high unemployment rates, Florida Republicans are likely to be even more focused on jobs and the economy, particularly the troubles in the housing market, the high rate of foreclosures, and the overall difficulty Americans have in buying and selling homes.

As Bloomberg reported, “Florida’s economic health has declined by 12.4 percent since the first quarter of 2009, when Obama was inaugurated, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States. The state’s home prices have declined 22.5 percent in the period.” Mind you, by 2008, the housing bubble had already burst.

Four: Expect Newt Gingrich to be aiming squarely at retirees. Newt Gingrich’s best age demographic in Iowa: those 65 and older (17 percent, second only to Romney).

Newt Gingrich’s best age demographic in New Hampshire: those 65 and older (14 percent, third behind Romney and Huntsman).

Newt Gingrich’s best age demographic in South Carolina: those 65 and older (47 percent, winning by a wide margin).

In 2008, one third of Florida’s Republican primary electorate was age 65 or older. Romney lost that demographic; he garnered 31 percent of the vote, compared with 41 percent for John McCain.

Five: Primary Day is really Primary Week. As mentioned above, early and absentee voting has been swift. Perhaps 10 percent of all of the Florida primary’s ballots were filled out before the South Carolina results.

Early voting began on Saturday, which means that at least one day’s worth of early votes were cast before news of Gingrich’s big win arrived last night. With early voting continuing through Saturday, the impact of late-breaking arguments, debate performances, television commercials, charges, gaffes, and other events lessens slightly with each passing day. Thus, if Romney and Gingrich intend to go on the attack, there is no point in delaying: The pool of persuadable GOP-primary voters will shrink slightly each day. Expect fireworks at Monday’s debate on NBC. On Thursday, CNN hosts another, which may be the last shot for whoever is in second place in this week’s polls to close the gap.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.