The four Republican primary candidates are learning the hard way something that every orange-juice-drinking, airboat-riding, sun-bathing, Sunshine State resident has known for a long time: Florida is one big state.
All 50 of Florida's delegates, now "at-large" due to RNC sanctions, are up for grabs to today's number one vote getter, but Florida's political landscape is truly unique. Pinellas County, home to Tampa, holds 26% of the primary electorate. Seminole County has 21% (Orlando), and Miami-Dade County has 14%.
That's right; more than half of Florida's Republican primary voters are split between just three counties. What this means for the four Republicans currently romping across my home state is simple: The battle of the airwaves will determine Florida.
Because of Florida's size and diversity, it's fairly impractical to try and win the state in a ground game, especially if the election is "winner-take-all," as it is this year. Rick Santorum won Iowa by knocking on doors and stopping by pizza ranches, but in Florida, we have a name for the cross-state road trip: The 1,000 Mile Journey. Combine that with a reliable elderly voting population that would rather stay home than go to campaign events and the message is clear: stick to commercials.
So who's the smartest guy in this regard? Mitt Romney. In terms of sheer numbers, Mitt Romney has vastly outspent any of his competitors by millions of dollars in Florida, and the results show it. Including the super PACs that support him, Mitt Romney has aired 12,768 television commercials in Florida as of Wednesday, according to a study by the Wesleyan University Media Project. Newt Gingrich and his super PAC allies have shown just 210. The most recent poll, by Quinnipiac University, shows Mitt ahead 43% to 29%.
This influx of advertising is an increase for Romney himself, compared to his 2008 campaign in the state. This is mainly due to the increased influence of super PACs since 2010's Citizens United ruling.
So, what's a poor old Speaker of the House to do? Frank Luntz said it best in a recent quote to the Washington Post: "Newt may not have the money, but he has always had the skill of grabbing attention." Targeting Florida's space industry, immigrant population, and huge amount of foreclosed homeowners, Speaker Gingrich is focusing his energy on trying to break Romney's momentum. Besides his sermons preaching a moon colony, Gingrich launched fierce attacks on Mitt's supposedly anti-immigration past. And now, Newt is hitting Mitt where it hurts: with attacks on the Governor's history at Bain Capital and on Wall Street.
As usual, Newt Gingrich shines when he has an enemy. Mitt can count on the Speaker's unrelenting wrath until at least tomorrow night, but it seems as if the sheer amount of money involved on Romney's side will carry the day. For now, at least, the lesson is hammered home once more: For a precursor to Florida's primary results, look at the TV guide, not the town bulletin.
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