Monday, January 21, 2008

The murky waters of Florida

Florida isn’t likely to be the land of milk, honey and resolution the Republicans think it will be in the runup to Super Tuesday. With the field of the party’s most viable contenders for the nomination effectively winnowed to four (thanks to the long-overdue exit of Duncan Hunter), the GOP leadership has held out the hope that, on primary day Jan. 29th, the big orange — its delegates and its profile on the national political scene — might be the clarifier in a crowded, compressed campaign. Florida, however, may end up clarifying just how murky and unclear the status of GOP frontrunner really is right now.

Look at what’s happened to this point: Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses. Mitt Romney won the Wyoming caucus and the Michigan primary. John McCain won the South Carolina primary. Giuliani hasn’t won anything. With results like that, could anyone name a frontrunner?

Now look at what Florida is likely to yield for each candidate:

Giuliani: Rudy Giuliani has been in Florida for forever and a day, shoring up his bona fides with the state’s retirees, many of whom are New Yorker expats with second or third homes in the state. Giuliani will gain some traction for having been in Florida for so long, as well as residual goodwill for his role (real or otherwise) as New York’s mayor in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

McCain: John McCain, as resolute a cold warrior as there ever was, can count on some support in the Sunshine State from its active-duty and retired personnel, many of whom will be inclined to back the Vietnam War veteran on the basis of having borne the battle, in war and in Congress.

Huckabee: Wunderkind Mike Huckabee will surely siphon some of Florida’s delegates because of a strong evangelical/fundamentalist contingent of voters in the state.

Romney: And Mitt Romney is likely to hold his own there, using his reputation as a millionaire and a big-business turnaround specialist to woo the state’s business community and its more bottom line-minded retirees. Romney can also be expected to get goodwill votes on the strength of wins in Wyoming and Michigan.

Clearly, no one’s got a lock on anything just yet. And that uncertainty is likely to carry into Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, with its delegates across 22 states hanging in the balance.

Also, one can’t overlook the Thompson variant. Since former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson — a reliable third- or fourth-place finisher so far — is still in the running, there’s a good chance his flailing campaign could draw down just enough votes to dangerously tweak the results for any of the other four candidates (though he’s likely to do the most damage to Huckabee).

All in all, it makes for an interesting race on the Republican side one week from Tuesday.

Florida orange juice was never this cloudy before.
Image credits: Top: Released to public domain. Second image: National Atlas (public domain). Third image: U.S. Mint (public domain).

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