By Bridget Hunter
On January 31, Republican candidate Mitt Romney prevailed in a state that is not nearly as Southern as a map of the United States would lead you to believe.
There’s an American saying about Florida that the farther north you go, the farther south you get. This is because voters in the southern part of Florida are likely to be people who have moved to Florida, often after retirement, from Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. These voters tend to have more in common with voters in those states than with voters who have lived in Florida all their lives.
In contrast, voters in northern Florida and the western portion of the state known as the panhandle have points of view — and voting patterns — that are similar to those of their neighbors in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.
So perhaps it is not too surprising that Romney, the candidate from the Northeast, was strongest in southern Florida, while Newt Gingrich, the candidate from the South, did best in northern and western Florida.
Romney secured 46 % of the Florida vote; Gingrich finished second with 32 %; and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul received 13% and 7%, respectively.
For Floridians, the economy is an important issue because the state was hit hard by the recent recession. Home values statewide dropped an average of 50 percent between 2007 and the end of 2011. The state’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, and is above 10% in several of its urban areas.
Another factor that influences voter choices in Florida is the age of its population. It is one of the oldest states in the nation: 38 percent of Floridians are 65 years of age or older; 34 percent are aged 50 to 64. Issues like health care and social security tend to be particularly important to older voters and affect how they cast their ballots.
Florida also has a more diverse population and a larger Hispanic population than any of the previous 2012 Republican nominating contests.
WINNER TAKE ALL? MAYBE
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cheer the closing of the polls at his Florida primary rally in Tampa, Florida, on January 31.
Republican Party rules stipulate that primaries or caucuses held prior to April 1 must award delegates proportionally, based on the number of votes a candidate receives.
Florida party officials decided to move that state’s primary earlier to have a greater voice in selection of the nominee. As punishment for moving to an earlier date, the Florida delegation was penalized half its delegates, but it remained a “winner-take-all” race in which the candidate who receives the most votes is awarded all the delegates.
Primaries in Arizona, Puerto Rico, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Wisconsin, Delaware, Indiana, California, New Jersey and Utah are winner-take-all contests.
Allowing Romney to retain all Florida delegates (even if Florida is only allowed to keep 50 of the 99 it would otherwise have) seems to violate Republican Party rules, but this will be a decision for party officials to make if and when a formal challenge is raised by one of the candidates. Such a challenge likely would be raised only if the contest is close enough that the Florida allocations would make a difference in the nomination race.
ON TO NEVADA
The next stop on the way to the Republican presidential nomination is Nevada on February 4. Like the first contest, Iowa, Nevada is a caucus state. Ron Paul has said he hopes his strong, committed organization and his decision to skip campaigning in Florida to spend more time in Nevada will yield a good finish and more delegates.
Rick Santorum, who also skipped Florida, narrowly won the Iowa caucuses and could see some success in Nevada as well, despite Gingrich’s assertion following the Florida primary that the Republican contest was now a two-man race.
All the Republican candidates have a long way to go to secure the 1,144 delegate votes needed to win their party’s nomination, and a lot can happen on the long road to the White House. In the meantime, President Obama, secure in his party’s nomination, must wait to find out which challenger he will face in November.