Why the 2012 election could all come down to Florida
The nation's premier swing state, younger and more diverse than you think, will be vital in deciding who wins the White House. Along the way, Florida could determine the GOP primary, too.
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"The Puerto Ricans are very volatile in terms of voting," says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "A lot has to do with making a personal appeal, getting someone who can come in and speak Spanish and energize them."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Florida and the presidential election
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The Republicans have in their hip pocket two powerful Spanish-speaking surrogates for their eventual nominee: former Gov. Jeb Bush and Senator Rubio. The Democrats don't have anyone analogous, thus the extra significance of the ground game.
Hispanics – namely, Cuban-Americans, who are centered in south Florida – are also influential in the GOP primary. Romney recently locked up the endorsements of three prominent Cuban-Americans: Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen; Rep. Mario Diaz Balart; and his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart. All three endorsed McCain in '08 and were critical to his victory over Romney.
Rubio has said he won't endorse in the primary. But he remains a special subject of fascination for the general election as a possible running mate for the Republican nominee. Rubio adamantly rules it out, but that doesn't stop the chatter.
Brad Coker, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, sees Romney as the likely GOP nominee – despite the Gingrich surge – and if that happens, believes Romney will win Florida in November even without Rubio on the ticket. Mr. Coker takes Rubio at his word that he'll resist any effort to get him on the ticket. But if Rubio is asked and relents, Coker says, "he would be helpful in a lot of places, not just Florida."
At the Cafe Versailles in Miami, the social center of Little Havana, the Republican ticket – with or without Rubio – is sure to get the support of the old men who hang out by the takeout window and sip their Cuban coffee.
Manuel Coll, a retired truck driver and musician, reminisces about his arrival in the United States on July 2, 1960, and goes to his car to get his old Cuban passport, which he proudly shows his visitors.
When asked about Obama, Mr. Coll goes easy on him, as if he's a son who's in over his head. "He's not bad, but his suits are too big for him," Coll says. Who would be better? "Gingrich. He's prepared to be president." And how about the 40-year-old Rubio as his running mate? "Too young."
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If the Cuban "old guard" is reliably Republican, the same can't be said about their children. Alejandro Miyar, a 30-year-old law student at the University of Miami and the son of Cuban immigrants, says he became a Democrat the day President Bill Clinton visited his middle school in Miami.
"I don't feel Marco Rubio and I have much in common," despite their common heritage, says Mr. Miyar, who worked for the Obama campaign in Florida in the last election.