Steve Schale: Florida’s presidential primary is late, but significant

Here are some interesting tidbits about the Florida primary:

  1. Well over 3 million people will vote in the Presidential Preference Primary. Tampa should be the largest voting market for both parties, albeit more so for the GOP. If African American and Hispanic turnout is high for Democrats, Miami could outpace Tampa.
  1. For Republicans, Florida is exceptionally accurate when it comes to choosing the nominee. Every GOP nominee has won Florida since the state started holding primaries in 1956.

When it comes to Democrats, the record is the opposite — most have lost Florida, most recently in 2008 when the state voted for Hillary Clinton, not the eventual nominee Barack Obama. I strongly suspect that Hillary Clinton will buck this trend, win Florida and win the nomination.

  1. When it comes to Republicans, Florida has not only been 100 percent accurate, it has always validated the general trajectory of the race. The only time that can be argued is 2012, when George Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all came into the state with a win — though Romney did go into Florida Election Day 2012 with a fairly commanding lead in the polls.

Every time Florida came late or later in the calendar, the person who had won the most contests coming in to Florida went on to win Florida.

  1. Florida is later in the process than you think. For Republicans, Florida is the 29th contest on the calendar (as is Ohio). Think about that. Both John Kasich and Marco Rubio are looking to their home states for a breakthrough after half the contests are complete. For Democrats, Florida is the 25th contest.  For the record, I stand ready to work with anyone who wants to find a way to move us earlier in the calendar.
  1. For the front-runners, winning Florida probably ends it for one main reason: money. By the time the campaigns get this far, they are largely running on hard dollar fumes, having raised their “easy” money long ago.

For both parties, outside of some caucuses and an early April primary in Wisconsin, the next set of primaries is at the end of April, and in some expensive states.

If you aren’t winning by March 15 with a shot at the nomination, you aren’t raising any money.  And if you aren’t raising money, you can’t feed the beasts required to compete in multiple expensive states a full month later.

Momentum = Money.

For the Democrats, the Florida primary is likely the day that Bernie Sanders’ campaign will collapse (if it doesn’t before), and for Rubio, a loss will also almost surely mean the end.

For Sanders, demographics are his biggest enemy.  Florida is both older and more diverse than most states, two things that bode well for Clinton.

For Rubio — who I contend is the one guy the Democratic Party really doesn’t want to face — the enemy is history.  Florida has played the role of validating state for Republicans, and right now, the most recent polling isn’t too far off the national polls. In fact, the polls show a slightly higher “ceiling” for Trump.

For Rubio, he either needs to make something happen in the next two weeks, or buck 60 years of history.


Steven Schale is a Florida-based political, communications and government-relations strategist. He can reached at [email protected] Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Steve Schale


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