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The Importance of Florida For the GOP In 2012: Mitt Romney's 14-Point Win is Just the Start

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney just won a critical contest in Florida in his bid to become the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Romney now gets to take 50 delegates with him in the winner-take-all primary to the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa come August.

The win highlights the critical importance of Florida for the Republican Party. The state will have to swing right in November not only for the GOP to win the White House back, but also in their quest to regain control of the Senate.

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics released some excellent research work last week studying all the polls in every state, particularly the swing states, and adding up the Electoral College math. When President Barack Obama is matched up with a “Generic Republican” in election polls, seven states are identified as toss-ups: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

Judging from the “Obama vs. Generic Republican” polls, if the election were held today, Obama would have 247 Electoral College votes in his corner and the Republican candidate would have 206, with the 85 votes from the seven toss-up states up for grabs. Two-hundred seventy (270) Electoral College votes are needed to win. If Florida’s critical 29 votes break for Obama as it did in 2008, the Republicans’ chances of winning the White House are over.

That’s why Romney’s win in Florida is a major victory. Whoever won the primary in Florida must carry it in November as well. As the Center for Politics’ map shows, were former Speaker Newt Gingrich to have won Florida, the rest of the map drastically changes by giving Obama 303 Electoral College votes (more than he needs) vs. Gingrich’s 181 and 54 toss-ups up for grabs – not enough to make a difference. But in addition to leading Obama in the swing states, Romney could also give the president a run for the money in currently left-leaning states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

The importance of Florida also leads to the temptation for Romney to pick Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as his running mate. Not only could Rubio theoretically carry must-win Florida with him, but he would also attract some of the ever growing Latino-American electorate throughout the country. Rubio’s support among social conservatives and Tea Party voters could also provide the perfect balance to a ticket with center-right conservative Romney, who does a better job of attracting moderates, centrists, and independents.

It’s also noteworthy to mention the upcoming contest for Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) seat in 2012. There are 23 incumbent Democratic seats in the Senate up for election in November, with arguably 8-10 that Republicans have a fair shot to win and switch majority leadership with. What’s encouraging for the GOP’s chances to win Nelson’s seat in Florida, and indeed its 29 Electoral College presidential votes, is that the rest of the state has solidly swung Republican since 2010. In addition to Rubio, Republicans have successfully elected Gov. Rick Scott, Rep. Allen West, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, and also hold wide majorities in the state legislature led by Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon.

That’s also why Romney’s win in Florida tonight makes a difference. If the GOP is to gain any Senate and congressional seats in critical swing states to accomplish goals such as repealing and replacing Obamacare, they are going to need a strong candidate at the top of the ticket to attract undecided votes. Republicans like former Sen. Bob Dole fear that a Gingrich nomination would spell doom for other GOP candidates across the country, such as Florida.

Current frontrunner Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) not only has wide recognition as the son of former Florida Congressman Connie Mack III, who served three terms in the House and two terms in the Senate, but in the last Rasmussen poll conducted on this, Mack is the only GOP candidate who leads Nelson in the 2012 race.

The bottom line is the Republicans need Florida. And while the primary contest may be over, the attention on Florida will not die down anytime soon. Not only will the 2012 Republican National Convention be held in Tampa, but both Obama and the Republican candidate will be spending a lot of time campaigning in the Sunshine State to seek a much needed victory there come November 6. Its 29 Electoral College votes could prove to be the deciding factor, as it did in the 2000 election.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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