Florida: A Political Microcosm of the U.S.?

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The state of Florida's U.S. Senate race has garnered a lot of attention this year, mainly because of Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio. If he wins his Senate race, the Sunshine State will have elected a Republican superstar. However, there are other reasons for the focus on Florida.

In Tea Party and Republican circles, Rubio is so popular, he's talked about as a possible future presidential candidate who could soar to that height even faster than a young Barack Obama.

Florida itself, though, is becoming more important in national politics.

Larry Thornberry, a contributor to the conservative "American Spectator" spoke to CBN News about the state's 27 electoral votes.

"That's ten percent of what it takes in electoral votes to get you into the White House," Thornberry said. "So it's a big chunk of votes."

It is similar to what George W. Bush and Al Gore showed in their 36-day standoff over Florida in 2000.

"It's very difficult for a candidate to win the presidency without winning Florida," said Susan MacManus, professor of political science at the University of South Florida.

MacManus is quoted more often than any other analyst on Florida politics. She said it's not just the state's number of electoral votes that matter in an election -- but that the state has become a microcosm of the entire nation.

"Because we have racial and ethnic diversity, age diversity, we're party competitive," she added. "We have the three geographies that people target toward -- rural, urban, suburban -- we've got it all right here."

"All the elements that you have, all the groups that you have, all the issues that you have, you have them here," Thornberry said. "So if you can win in Florida, you can win in the nation."

"In a sense, we are a reflection of America," said Terry Watson, a Florida Democratic activist.

"I like to call this an immigrant state," Watson added. "And by immigrant state, I'm not talking necessarily about people from overseas. I'm talking about from other states."

If a presidential candidate can't appeal to all parts of Florida, then it is unlikely that candidate can't win the country over.

"Everyone you meet here is from somewhere else," Watson said. "What does that do? That brings in a lot of different perspectives. It brings in people from the Northwest, the Northeast, the Midwest."

"We have about three to five demographics and three to five different states throughout the state," said pro-family activist John Stemberger.

Also, if Florida's a microcosm of the country, the I - 4 corridor encompassing Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg is a microcosm of Florida.

"It's a very key swing area that really can be determined by independents, and can go either way, depending upon how the candidate appeals to the people," Stemberger added.

Stemberger said what makes Florida politics more fun is that political party members don't necessarily fit the stereotypes of their parties.

"You've got a lot of north Florida Democrats who are conservative," he continued. "You've got a lot of seniors in various pockets that are conservatives."

"They're registered Democrats, but they often vote Republican in statewide races," Macmanus said.

"Some of them have been registered Democrats for 40 years, but the last Democrat they voted for was Lyndon B. Johnson."

As in the rest of the nation, one big point of conversation at Florida political events is whether there will be an enthusiasm gap -- with Democrats and the younger members of the party much less enthused about voting.

Tea Party partisan Eileen Blackmer thinks so.

"They're just not enthusiastic," she said. "Like us Republicans and us Tea Party people are real enthusiastic."

However, many who waited to get into the rally for Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek disagree.

"We're upset with the way that everything's going in the country," said Amanda Smolen, a university student. "And we want to get out and make a difference."

Thornberry said he's never seen such interest in a midterm election.

"Our fix-it guy who comes over and does jobs on our house -- he's been doing stuff," he said. "He's been doing stuff for us for years. He talks about baseball, football and fishing. This year, he doesn't want to talk about anything but politics."  

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.