January 29, 2008

Florida: Mac is (Still) Back

After the American Century

The results are in, and McCain has won Florida with 36%, with Romney at 31%. It seems that McCain has found what Ponce de Leon was looking for: rejuvenation. He was the Spaniard who discovered Florida, looking for the the fountain of youth, which he had heard lay in that region. McCain may be the oldest candidate, but he's looking a bit younger after winning Florida. Giuliani, in contrast, found out that he is old news. Finishing third, the press is reporting that he will drop out of the race and endorse McCain. That means the Republican moderates will no longer be split, while Huckabee and Romney will continue to divide the more conservative Republicans.

The state where the Republican field was reduced to three is not like the rest of the South. Almost exactly 400 years after Ponce de Leon's futile search, old people from the Northern US began to retire to the warmth of Florida, which has had a land boom and bust cycle for 90 years. This influx of Northerners, many from New York City, makes the State less "southern" on the political map than it appears to be geographically. If the rest of the South is reliably conservative in Presidential elections, Florida is not. There are acres of retired Jewish voters on the beaches near Miami, who tend to go for McCain. There is the large Cuban community, still fighting the Cold War against Castro. They also voted on the whole for McCain. Then there is the large gay community on the chain of islands leading down to Key West. Some of them are conservative enough to vote Republican, but they will not like Huckabee, who wants a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, or Romney, who is almost as hostile.

Huckabee gave up on Florida, and he got only 13% of the vote. Perhaps he hoped that Romney could beat McCain if he were not there to divide the vote.
Meanwhile, Giuliani put all his eggs in the Florida basket, but has now proven the pundits were right: campaigning only in one state was a bad strategy, though it gave him a chance to work on his tan. All the polls indicate that in the last days before balloting, it became a two day race, and now we have the results.

Florida is diverse enough to resemble the nation as a whole, certainly more so than South Carolina. So it is important who wins there, not just for the delegates to the convention, but because the Republicans usually need to win this state to win the Presidency. That was obviously true in 2000 (though they may not have really won), and it was also the case in 2004. If they lose Florida (as they did 1996), then they likely will lose the general election. It is the biggest swing state.

The Republican Party contenders, like Ponce de Leon, have been looking for rejuvenation in Florida. The explorer not only failed but soon died. The same has now happened to Giuliani, and perhaps Huckabee. Now the questions are: Will the battle between Romney and McCain get nasty? Will Huckabee drop out in time to help Romney, creating a political debt? Can McCain win over the conservative wing of the party, many of whom still publicly say they do not want him? We will get an idea in six days, on Super Tuesday.