Florida is a difficult state to wrap your arms around, with 67 counties, two time zones, and a population of about 19 million.
Indeed, it almost can be viewed as five different states, according to Politico — the Panhandle, including Pensacola; North Florida, centered in Jacksonville; Central Florida, traversed by the I-4 corridor; Southwest Florida on the Gulf coast; and Southeast Florida, including Miami.
Within these regions, Politico
has identified nine important counties to watch as ballots are counted for the state’s primary Tuesday.
1. Miami-Dade County
Mitt Romney got creamed in this Southeast Florida county in 2008, losing by more than a 3-to-1 margin to John McCain. Hispanic voters account for 265,000 of the Republicans in the county, so Romney has to be happy that polls show him running better with Hispanic voters this year.
2. Palm Beach County
This county also lies in Southeast Florida and is heavily Democratic. But the county still has the third highest amount of Republican voters in the state and is home to Newsmax.
McCain conquered Romney here easily in 2008. But the county’s demographics favor Romney. It’s largely white collar and leads the state in households with residents 65 and older and households with income of more than $100,000. If Romney doesn’t dominate here, he may be in trouble.
3. Hillsborough County
This Central Florida county includes Tampa. It’s a very accurate predictor of how Florida will go in the general election. Since 1960, every candidate who has carried Florida in the general election also won in Hillsborough.
4. Brevard County
This Central Florida region on the east coast includes the “Space Coast,” where NASA rockets take off. Newt Gingrich’s talk of colonizing the moon undoubtedly played well here and could propel him to victory in a county that opted for McCain over Romney in 2008 and produced a turnout of 54 percent in that race.
5. Orange County
This central county includes Orlando. Romney was virtually tied here with McCain in 2008. Romney should do well this time around. But note that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won more voters here than in any other Florida county four years ago. So Gingrich has an opportunity to draw plenty of support from evangelical and social conservative voters.
6. Duval County
This northern country includes Jacksonville. Duval and adjacent counties went strong for Romney in 2008. The Republican establishment is offering him strong support here, which should enable Romney to thrive.
7. Lee County
This southwest county includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The moderate Midwestern transplants who populate the area helped Romney score a rousing victory in 2008. So he must be happy that the county added more than 27,000 Republicans over the past three years, the biggest addition to any county in the state.
8. Sumter County
This central western county is very small, but it includes The Villages, a planned retirement community that’s a must-stop for Republican candidates. Romney has journeyed there six times over the course of his two presidential attempts.
Gingrich has stopped by as well in the last week. The county is full of senior citizens, many of them conservatives. And it generated a turnout of 57 percent in the 2008 presidential primary, second only to Lee County.
9. Escambia County
This northern county in the westernmost portion of the state includes Pensacola and is closer to Dallas than to Miami. Just like its location, the county’s politics are closer to the Deep South than South Florida.
Gingrich needs to win big here if he wants to have any chance of upending Romney. Its military connections and social conservatives certainly give Gingrich an opening.
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