Florida’s GOP Primary — Bellwether and Tiebreaker (ContributorNetwork)
When Florida chose to move up the date of its 2012 primary election from March 6 to Jan. 31, it was considered controversial and drew a storm of condemnation from Republican Party grandees. Now the media has christened the Sunshine State the tiebreaker in the red-hot Republican presidential contest, based on its bellwether, swing-state status and sheer size.
It was only in the last Republican GOP nomination race that Florida took on such importance for Republican candidates despite the state’s prominence in the general election. Prior to that, Florida stuck to its early spring position in the primary schedule, and by early March the ability of even a state of Florida’s importance to influence the nomination was limited. With its primary set for January, however, Florida might have even more weight in the Republican nomination race than it does in the subsequent national election.
2008 — John McCain
Much like Mitt Romney today, in 2008 John McCain was a “front-runner” who had to fight hard for every win. He had done well enough in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but lost in Iowa, Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada. McCain needed a clear win in Florida badly, and he got it, beating Mitt Romney by 36 percent to 31 percent.
In 2008, the Florida Primary was scheduled for Jan. 29, a date very similar to this year’s event. By winning in Florida, McCain gained important momentum that he carried into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, where he won nine of the most important of 21 primary contests, bagging a majority of the delegates at stake and cementing his lead for the nomination.
2000 — George W. Bush
Florida was positioned too late in 2000 to have much of an impact on the contest between George W. Bush and John McCain for the GOP nomination. Scheduled for March 14 (much as 2012′s contest was originally scheduled for March 6), McCain had already withdrawn after being routed on Super Tuesday.
1996 — Bob Dole
In 1996, Florida was part of the March 12 Super Tuesday slate of primaries. Although Bob Dole, the party’s anointed leader, engaged in a fierce fight in January and February with publisher Steve Forbes and pundit Pat Buchanan, by Super Tuesday Dole’s lead was firm. He had swept 15 of 16 primaries and caucuses, so it is hard to see how a late loss in Florida would have disrupted his momentum.
1988 — George H.W. Bush
In the 1988 run to decide who would succeed Ronald Reagan as the party’s standard bearer, Florida was once again part of a Super Tuesday slate of 17 elections. Just as in 2000 and 1996, the nomination was bitterly contested in January and February, with both Bush the Elder and Dole winning their fair share, and evangelist Pat Robertson shaving off Hawaii and Alaska. Bush clinched his nomination by winning a staggering 16 of 17, including Florida. Once again, lost in the midst of such a Super Tuesday avalanche, it is hard to see how losing Florida would have changed anything.