Predictions as to which Republican candidate will come away with the prize of the national party’s presidential nomination is an impossible task this early in the race. But there is no doubt that Florida will be a pivotal state in a hard-fought 2016 election, according to Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist.
“There’s not another state in the country that will be this competitive,” she said. “It’s considered a bellwether, a microcosm.”
MacManus addressed about 30 people at the Conservative Club of East Pasco on June 15 at the group’s monthly meeting in Zephyrhills.
The Interstate 4 corridor will be key to carrying the state, she said.
Gov. Rick Scott had just a 1 percent edge in votes along I-4 in his re-election victory over former Gov. Charlie Christ in 2014. And, past presidential elections were decided by about that same slim margin.
“Almost half of registered voters are between Pinellas County and Daytona Beach,” MacManus said.
Florida mirrors the nation in demographics such as population age and diversity among registered voters, though not among total population.
It is a myth, MacManus joked, that people in Florida are 95 years or older. Also untrue is the perception that all Hispanics in Florida are Cuban, she said.
Along I-4, for instance, Puerto Ricans are the largest Hispanic demographic.
One of the most intensely fought over groups will be the millennials. The generation from about age 18 to age 24 is going to be as influential as the baby boomers were in their day, she said.
“I see a little bit more movement (of millennials) back to the Republicans,” MacManus said. “A lot of that is over fiscal issues.”
To date, 12 candidates have announced among Republicans including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Donald Trump.
MacManus was dismissive of Trump.
And, her first encounter with Gov. Scott Walker, who has not officially announced as a candidate, was not impressive.
“I was rather disappointed,” she said, though she will give him another chance. “I didn’t think he’d had a lot of sleep.”
Bush’s launch of his campaign, however, was masterfully done, she said. He spoke to a crowd that reflected the diversity in Miami and across the country, dispelling the criticism that Republican crowds are mostly white.
MacManus also noted that the Republican field of candidates is more diverse than Democrats running for president.
Bush’s first speech as a candidate struck an anti-Washington tone, MacManus said. She expects he will tout his economic record in Florida and his education reforms, as well.
The question MacManus is asked most often is who will win Florida’s Republican primary, Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio.
She doesn’t have a crystal ball on that one.
“So much is volatile,” she said.
She does predict that the 2016 presidential race will be the most expensive ever, and Tampa Bay will be in the thick of it.
“This is really going to a happening spot,” MacManus said.
However, local and state candidates may face challenges because national races, including Congressional elections, will compete for donations and media attention. They could be “starved out a bit,” MacManus said.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the front-runner for the party’s nomination. But MacManus said, “It is surprising to see the interest in (Sen.) Bernie Sanders…People find him very interesting.”
She also has been surprised that there are women voters who like Sen. Elizabeth Warren “but wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Some of Clinton’s support comes from women voters who believe she got a “raw deal” in 2008 when then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama won the nomination.
But there is another reason.
“She would be the first woman president,” MacManus said. “People love people that can break the mold. That’s why Obama got elected. He broke one of the biggest barriers – race.”
Voter turnout will be crucial for both parties.
“The emphasis, and rightly so, will be to get people to vote,” she said. Though extended and early voting is popular, the trend hasn’t boosted overall turnout, she added. “Both parties have felt the sting of bad turnout.”
With the election about 17 months away, residents should be prepared for campaigns that likely will be fought through social media, scare tactics and negative advertisements, MacManus said.
“That’s kind of sad,” she said.
But on the plus side, Florida and Tampa Bay will be the place for politics.
“Thank God, I don’t live in North Dakota,” MacManus said. “How very dull.”
Published June 24, 2015