Some keys to the riddle of Florida politics

Do you like riddles? Try this one. You are Gary Hart, Walter Mondale, or John Glenn. Your objective: Winning the Florida primary, which has the most delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

Here are some of the things you might want to consider as you shape your final campaign push in Florida:

Latest political intelligence reports. A poll in Florida shows Senator Hart rapidly gaining on Mr. Mondale. Most of the delegate candidates that will appear on the ballot next to the name of former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew (he has dropped out of the race) are pledging support to Hart. More than a dozen state legislators have just jumped into the Hart boat (all right: Why does it always have to be ''on to the bandwagon?'').

But a Democratic National Committee member in here, T. Wayne Bailey, is warning legislators who are considering the jump, ''By the time you land, the boat may have shifted'' - again. Mondale, until recently, was far ahead. Dr. Bailey, a political scientist at Stetson University here, says the Hart ''hurricane'' has the Mondale camp in Florida feeling in a ''siege phase.''

Hart is banking on his emphasis on new ideas. But when Terry Beckett, a former Askew campaign worker and now a paid Hart campaigner, was asked which of Hart's new ideas appealed to her, she replied, ''I have to admit to you, I don't have an answer for you. I like what I feel about the candidate.''

The length of the state. While the distances a candidate must cover are shorter in areas like New England, the coastal road distance from Pensacola to Key West is as long as the distance from Chicago to the Florida Gulf coast. A single television station in a smaller state might reach most of the potential voters. Here you need to buy very expensive TV time on half a dozen or so stations to reach most people.

The political lineup of the state. Is it Republican or Democratic? Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans about 2 to 1. But the state gone Republican in three of the last six presidential elections, including going for Ronald Reagan?

''You have a lot of Republicans at heart who are registered Democrats,'' says Cuban-American Alfredo Duran, a Miami attorney and a former Florida Democratic state chairman.

Florida Gov. Bob Graham, first elected in 1978, is a Democrat. And the state legislature has a strong Democratic majority. Florida has 13 Democratic and 6 Republican representatives in Congress. But there is only 1 Democratic senator, Lawton Chiles, who, by the way, walked the length of the state in one of his campaigns. The other senator is Republican Paula Hawkins, who some think won only with the help of Mr. Reagan's coattails. She may be challenged in 1986 by outgoing Governor Graham.

Is the state as conservative as the rest of the South? No. It is a real mix. You find everyone from unabashed liberal who moved here from New York to the very conservative who were born and raised here. What makes it even more confusing is that new people (that is new voters) keep arriving every day, from all over.

In Florida, with few exceptions, ''a candidate to win has to win as a conservative,'' Bailey says. That may account, he says, for the fact that few public officials here have come forward to embrace Mondale. ''There is an intuitive fear of being tagged a liberal,'' he says.

Issues important in Florida. Like the swirls in a chocolate marble cake, there are some issues that cut across the variety of voter interests here, says state Sen. Edgar Dunn, a currently uncommitted former Askew delegate candidate. He cites three: the environment, crime, and growth, which underlies the first two.

From 1970 to 1980 Florida's population soared by more than 43 percent, to 9.7 million. Only two states, with much smaller populations, Arizona and Nevada, had faster growth rates.

Blacks comprise about 11 percent of the state's population. Hispanics account for about 10 percent.

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