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Welcome back, Mr. President

In anticipation of President Obama and Vice President Biden's trip next week, now seems like as good a time as any to look at some fun political facts about Florida, Florida, Florida.

In the nation's current political alignment, especially for the GOP, Florida is a real make or break state.  There are very few scenarios where the GOP could win the White House without Florida's 27 (soon to be 28 or 29). As a result, Florida's electoral votes essentially assure a Democratic win. 

As I used to tell our young staff in 2008, it was win and you're in.

History tends to prove this point. 

Since 1928, Florida has only landed on the wrong side of two Presidential elections:  1960 and 1992 (the other big battleground, Ohio, has also been wrong twice:  1944 and 1960).  In both cases, Florida narrowly went for the GOP, while national Democrats won the ultimate prize. 

In fact, you have to go back to 1924 and the re-election of President Calvin Coolidge to find the last time that a Republican won the White House without an assist from the Sunshine State.

So if Florida is the epicenter of Presidential politics, what is the epicenter of Florida?  Simple:  Tampa, the place where the President will pay a visit on Thursday.

According to the Division of Elections, since 1948, the winner of Hillsborough County has won Florida all but one time (1960---that year, it voted for Kennedy, but Nixon won the state).

And since 1992 (the point where POTUS elections in FL became reliably competitive), the Tampa media market as a whole has selected the winner.

Year                Winner                 Tampa Market                 Statewide

92                   Bush                             +4%                            +2%

96                   Clinton                          +4%                            +6%

00                   Bush                             +2%                             Tie

04                   Bush                             +7%                             +5%

08                   Obama                          +0.5%                          +2.5% 

Certainly in 2008, the importance of the market wasn't lost on either the Obama or McCain campaigns.  We stuck our campaign state headquarters right smack in the heart of the market and made St. Petersburg the first public Florida stop of then Senator Obama's general election effort.  In fact, McCain and Obama both made four visits (and even more 'stops') to the market between August and Election Day, and sent their ticket-mate's there three times each. 

So what is it about this market?    

First, in terms of vote share, no market is bigger in Florida.  Nearly a quarter of all votes cast in a Presidential election will come from the Tampa market.  When you add the 20% that comes from the Orlando market, the importance of the I-4 corridor becomes obvious.

Secondly, I-75.  Migration to Florida, especially in the late 20th century tended to follow interstates, with the more liberal, northeastern voters migrating into southeast Florida and Midwestern voters ending up on the west coast.  As a result, while the politics of Broward look a lot like the politics of New York and Boston, the politics of Tampa feel a lot more like the more centrist and competitive politics of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.  If you don't believe me, count the Bears and Packers fans at a Bucs game. 

Lastly, it is a little microcosm of Florida.  It has some rural ag, a growing Hispanic population (and an established Cuban population), large urban African-American centers, traditional white working class communities, and a whole lot of soccer moms.  To do well in this market, you have to have a message with wide appeal---the key ingredient to winning across the state.

So welcome back to the Tampa area, Mr. President.  Personally, I hope we will see you here lots more over the next three years.

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Reader Comments (5)

Good one Steve, and Tampa Bay is even more diverse than that. The list goes on.

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin King

Steve - I saw a little something on a blog recently about the I-95/I-75 split, and I think it's a fantastic starting point for the study of Tampa and South Florida politics. Where'd you get it from?

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBaba O'Riley

Baba- Not sure who first 'wrote' on the subject, but you can get it just from talking to people in the region. Ask anyone in Florida where they are from---of course, no one answers Florida.

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