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Politics in Florida: Always courting voters

Swingin'

"The first myth is that everyone in Florida is old and the only people that move here are old retirees, and that's certainly not true anymore — we have the registration figures that show now that 51% of registered voters are over 50 and 49% are under. I'd say the biggest change is Florida's power on the national political stage is well-recognized and gets stronger by the day. It's because the population has become very polarized, just like the rest of the country. Look back to the 2010 governor's race, which was 1% difference between the two candidates, and that's not atypical, and everybody I've looked at, everyone who's created swing state maps, puts Florida in the top five and a lot of them put Florida No. 1 as the biggest swing state this year."

— Susan MacManus, distinguished professor of public administration
and political science at the University of South Florida

Florida - Swing State
[Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters]


Election Dysfunction

The legacy of the 2000 presidential vote in Florida still colors the perception of Florida both inside and outside the state. In 2009 while on a trip to Nigeria, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared electoral corruption there to the balloting in Florida. Answering a question about Nigeria's election, Clinton said, "In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for president was the governor of the state. So we have our problems too."

Hillary Clinton
[Photo: AP/J. Applewhite]

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Voter Registration

Voter Registration
[Photo: iStock]

By the Numbers (November 2011)
• 11. 2 million — Registered voters in Florida

• 41% are Democrats

• 36% are Republicans

• 20% are independents (no party affiliation)

• 3% belong to other parties

» Since the 2008 general election, the percentage of Republicans has remained the same at 36%. Registered Democrats dropped 1%, and the ranks of independents rose 1%.

» The biggest gains in Republican registration have come in the media markets of Tampa Bay (+2.7%), Palm Beach (+2.4%) and Naples (+1.6%). The sharpest losses have occurred in Tallahassee (-4.3%), Gainesville (-2.5%) and Jacksonville (-2.2%).

» Nearly one-third of the state's 4.5 million registered Democrats live in three counties in south Florida — Miami-Dade (11.5%), Broward (12.4%) and Palm Beach (8.2%) — a trend that, along with the 2002 GOP-led redistricting, has diluted Democrats' power in the state Capitol. Despite their 451,000-voter registration advantage in the state, Democrats occupy only 38 of 120 seats in the Florida House and 12 of 40 in the Florida Senate.

Source: Florida Division of Elections, Sayfie Review

Must-Knows

Expansive, Diverse
Strategies that play well in one part of Florida may not work in other parts of the state. Television advertisements that work in Tampa, for example, have to be tweaked to appeal to voters in Miami or in Jacksonville, says Mo Elleithee, a partner with Hilltop Public Solutions, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm and a Democratic political strategist. "It's not a one-size-fits-all state," he says.

Romney TV Spot

Expensive
With a half-dozen major media markets, each with its own demographic flavor, candidates can easily spend $2 million a week courting Florida voters, says David Johnson, former executive director of the Florida Republican Party. Some candidates, including Ron Paul in this year's GOP primary, simply avoid Florida because of the cost of running here.

Hispanics
Hispanics comprise 11% of all Florida Republicans. Cubans account for 29.7% of Florida's
Hispanic population. Puerto Ricans make up 20%. "What has really changed over the last 15 years is the great influx of the migration from Puerto Rico," Johnson says. He credits President Obama's Florida win in 2008 to his outreach to non-Cuban Hispanics in central Florida.

Seniors
The state's seniors aren't one bloc, either. "Although Social Security is very important to seniors, there are different nuances and ways of talking about it. The folks in Fort Myers and Naples are different from the voters in Broward County in the same age bracket, and that is what makes Florida different. It's not so much where you live, but where you come from," Johnson says.

Mel Sembler
Mel Sembler

Donors
Florida is a big source of political donations — for both Democrats and Republicans. In 2008, Florida donors contributed about $53 million to presidential campaigns, ranking the state fourth in the nation for fundraising. During that cycle, Obama raised $15.9 million from Florida donors, while his opponent, Sen. John McCain, raised $13.9 million. Republican fundraiser Mel Sembler, founder of shopping center developer Sembler Co., says at a recent Republican National Committee fundraiser in St. Petersburg he was told 70% of the RNC's donations come from four states: Florida, New York, California and Texas. But half of that 70% comes from Florida. "That tells you that people outside of Florida are looking to come to Florida to get the money," Sembler says. "We have great fundraising and people interested in politics down here. Florida is where the money is."

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How Important is the I-4 Corridor?
Nearly half of the state's 4 million registered Republicans live in the media markets of
Tampa Bay (25%) and Orlando (20%).

More than half of the state's Republicans are in 10 counties — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Duval, Lee, Brevard, and Polk.

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Contributions

$99.3 million
— total itemized campaign contributions from Florida in 2009-10 to all political parties

$49.3 million — to Republicans

$36.4 million — to Democrats

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Pundit Retreat

In recent years, south Florida has become home to a raft of conservative media figures, including Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Dick Morris and Lou Dobbs.

Conservative media figures