Sunny or not: Romney’s must-win state

Updated
Supporter of President Barack Obama rally outside a polling station during the U.S. presidential election in Tampa, Florida November 6, 2012.
Supporter of President Barack Obama rally outside a polling station during the U.S. presidential election in Tampa, Florida November 6, 2012.
Scott Audette/Reuters

Florida’s hefty 29 Electoral College votes are nearly essential for Mitt Romney to capture in order to make his way to 270 and capture the presidency. Without it, he would need to win every toss-up state and then some, according to NBC News projections.

But President Obama carried the state in 2008 and is not letting it go easily.

Both campaigns have spent significant time and money on the state. With $177 million in election season spending as of late October, it is behind only Ohio in terms of total spending by the campaigns.

Diversity

Florida ranks among the most demographically diverse states with more retirees than any other state and a 23% Hispanic population. Like a majority of Americans, Floridians cite the economy as their primary issue of concern. Though unemployment has dropped since its peak in 2009, it hasn’t budged much around 8.7%, higher than the national average.

Obama leads Romney 73% to 24% among Latino voters nationwide, largely thanks to favorability on the president’s immigration policies, which 66% of Florida voters support. But for Florida’s two largest Hispanic groups—Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans—immigration is a tangential issue because they have legal status. The Miami Herald reports: “Florida Hispanics are far more Republican than anywhere else in the country.”

For Obama to keep his edge, he’ll have to turn out the Hispanic vote: of the 1.5 million Hispanics registered to vote in Florida, around 592,000 are Democrats and 463,000, Republicans.

Florida also hosts the country’s highest percentage of senior citizens, and Medicare was high-priority issues this election season. A Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll from Nov. 1 showed 50% of likely Florida voters favor Obama to handle Medicare while 44% favor Romney. Under Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s voucher plan, more than 90% of Floridians on Medicare would see their premiums go up.

Florida also has the third largest veteran population, a voting bloc that appears to be up for grabs. In his first term, Obama signed an executive order to improve veterans’ mental healthcare and pushed a jobs bill that would create jobs for returning veterans. He also brought troops home from Iraq.

But Sen. John McCain believes Florida vets are upset with the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks.

“How much that matters, I don’t know, but there are 1.6 million veterans in the state of Florida and I’ve never seen them as fired up as they are now,” McCain told the Morning Joe panel on Nov. 5.

Voting issues

The infamous 2000 election recount in Florida have made election watchers wary of voting irregularities in the Sunshine State.

“We’re expecting a very smooth process,” Chris Kate, a spokesman from Gov. Rick Scott’s communications office, told msnbc.com. “We’ve made significant improvements since the recount and are more prepared than ever to conduct a fair and accurate election… 4.5 million votes have already been cast through absentee ballots and early voting, which should alleviate some of the lines and pressure of a typical Election Day.”

Yet, a Republican-led purge of the voter rolls earlier this year and long lines for early voting after a reduction in the number of early voting days have already led to complaints from Democratic and civil rights groups about the voting process in Florida. Over the weekend, voters were captured shouting, “Let us vote, let us vote,” after being shut out of polling center on Sunday.

One Floridian described her “infuriating” attempt to cast an absentee ballot from Brooklyn, N.Y.

“After applying for an absentee ballot on Oct. 16, I waited more than a week and started to worry when the online profile tracking my ballot still read ‘not yet mailed,’” Boynton Beach native Carly Sakolove told msnbc.com. “When I called the Palm Beach County elections office to ask why it hadn’t been sent yet, I was told it had been sent on Oct. 18, and the status was incorrect. On Nov. 2, the ballot hadn’t arrived but the status was changed to ‘sent’ – with less than four days to make it from Florida to Brooklyn and back.”

After speaking with three different election workers in the Palm Beach County office, Sakolove was ultimately told, “We can’t give you an explanation.”

“There have been plenty of opportunities for people to cast a ballot, in the mail or in person for weeks now,” Kate said. “Six thousand sites will be open for Floridians on Tuesday.”

Polls in Florida close at 8 p.m.

Counties to watch

Hillsborough County

This is the big one. Since 1960, Hillsborough County has voted for the winning candidate in every election but one. In 1992, it voted for President George H.W. Bush. Obama won Hillsborough, home of Tampa, in 2008 with 51% of the vote over McCain’s 48%. It’s one of the only Florida counties with more than 1 million residents.

Duval County

Duval County’s largest city Jacksonville has been a longtime GOP stronghold – until recently.

The city’s traditionally conservative residents voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980; Democrats haven’t won a race there since. But after aggressive campaigning in the area and targeting the African-American community in 2008, Obama came close to wiping out the Republican advantage here. This cycle, he could take it all the way.

Pinellas County

Like Hillsborough County, Pinellas County falls within the I-4 Corridor, the area through Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa prone to political fluctuation. In 2004, Bush and Kerry posted a virtual tie here, and Obama lead McCain 54% to 46% in 2008.

Volusia County

Volusia County became ground zero for Florida’s electronic voting problems during the 2000 election when a Democratic party official noticed that a hacked voting machine in Volusia’s 216th precinct of 585 registered voters had somehow given George W. Bush 2,813 votes and had given Al Gore a negative vote count of -16,022 votes.

In 2008, Obama beat McCain in Volusia 52% to 47%. But now, spikes in home foreclosure in the area have residents impatient for change.

Orange County

With a large non-Cuban Hispanic population, this is one place the Puerto Rican vote comes into play. After voting Republican from 1948 to 2000, Orange County residents cast 85,000 more votes for Obama than for McCain in 2008. To win the state again, the president will likely need Orange County’s vote again.

Sunny or not: Romney's must-win state

Updated