Article by Carol Weissert, Flinders University Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Political Science
On March 15th five states hold primaries in the tumultuous, yet riveting, U.S election of its next president. Florida is the one to watch, especially whether the state’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, will carry his state. Ted Cruz did it on Super Tuesday. Gov. John Kasich expects to do it on March 15th. But Marco’s task might be harder for several reasons.
–Marco has fought hard throughout the campaign against his former mentor, Jeb Bush, who is a popular figure in the state with many, many friends and supporters who were abashed at Rubio’s apparent disrespect for his elder. Jeb is out of the race, but he has yet to endorse Rubio. If he does, this will help Rubio’s possibilities in the state. If he does not, this means his supporters are free to make their own choices, and they may not be Rubio.
–Florida is a politically finicky state. It is more racially and politically diverse than many of the early voting states. Democratic registration exceeds Republicans, and it has voted Democratic in the past two presidential elections, but Republicans dominate state offices. The fastest growing ‘party’ is not a party at all, but rather Independents (called No Party Affiliation in Florida). Younger voters are especially likely to register as NPAs. But the Florida primary is closed to NPAs. These citizens simply aren’t allowed to vote in this primary and many might have chosen Rubio.
–Turnout will be key. Unlike compulsory voting in Australia, in the U.S. voters turn out voluntarily. The turnout numbers in other states so far are up, and indications are they’ll be up in Florida too. This probably benefits Trump who is turning out large numbers of new voters.
Polls indicate Florida will go for Trump—with somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the vote– unless Rubio can turn out his voters and turn around Trump supporters. Rubio’s dark money supporters are running very positive ads burnishing the record of “our senator.” But it worth noting that around one-fourth of Floridians have already cast their ballots in early voting and thus are immune to these efforts.
National party stalwarts have launched a stop Trump campaign led by former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and hope to mount a delegate battle at the convention. But Florida’s primary is winner take all—unlike the primaries to date where delegates are apportioned on formulas determined by the individual states. Florida has 99 delegates that will go to the winner—no matter how close the second place finisher is. So if Trump wins by one vote, he’ll get all the delegates. If he wins big, delegates counts are not likely to matter. Because if Trump badly beats Rubio in his home state, the Rubio campaign will almost certainly be doomed. And that means the Florida primary is the one to watch.
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