As National Proxy, Florida's A State To Watch

Feb 14, 2013

WATCHING FLORIDA: Why? Because our personalities, trends and demographics so closely follow the country's.

Florida has always been a state to watch, if only as a guilty pleasure or perhaps in self-defense. But some major political stars are aligning and the pundits are beginning to agree, Florida will really be a State To Watch from now at least through the 2016 election.

The personalities-of-the moment are here. The game-changing demographics are here. And the Florida stage is set for epic -- and deeply symbolic -- political confrontations.

For instance, as NBC political editor Mark Murray observes, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist could challenge Republican Rick Scott for the governor's office in 2014 in a microcosmic representation of the Republican Party's current struggles.

Either or both of two Florida Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, could run for president in 2016. That will test the party's ability to survive in a state where Latinos power is ascendant. To understand how ascendant, writes Murray, consider:

In 2012, Barack Obama won just 37 percent of the white vote in the state, which was five points worse than John Kerry in 2004.

But unlike Kerry, Obama  won Florida. How did he do it? For one thing, the Latino population increased from 15 percent of Florida’s electorate in 2004 to 17 percent in 2012.

More importantly, Obama won 60 percent of those voters, versus Kerry losing them in ’04. Obama also won a majority of the Cuban-American vote.

That’s the demographic reality now facing the Republican Party, and why some national Republicans like Rubio and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are working to pass comprehensive immigration reform. (It’s also why Florida has wanted to have an early role in GOP presidential nominating contests.)

Signs that Jeb Bush may run: He's scheduled to speak next month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, which is a sort of try-out revue for possible candidates. It’s the first time Bush has been there.

As for Rubio, he delivered the response to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. He has assembled a first-rate staff and he has managed to position himself in that bipartisan coalition of senators trying to develop immigration reform proposals.

Like we said, Florida has always been a state to watch. But now that the biggest national stories are playing out on our small stage, it's never been more watchable.