For Americans, the Sunshine State has become a vacation destination for relaxing and soaking in the rays. This Tuesday, its primary election will be anything but calming for both the GOP and Democratic presidential candidates, who will fight to win Florida's numerous delegates. When it comes to sharing, the state does not play nice. The GOP allocates its delegates in a winner-take-all fashion based on the statewide total. Among the states voting on March 15 — which include Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina — Florida holds the largest number of delegates, putting it in the spotlight on the third Super Tuesday. The state holds 99 GOP delegates and 246 Democratic delegates.
Since 1968, Florida's primary has correctly predicted a dozen presidential nominees. In both 2008 and 2012, the state accurately chose each of the Republican nominees. This year, Florida senator and GOP candidate Marco Rubio is hoping that his state will fight the momentum going for frontrunner Donald Trump. During an MSNBC Town Hall on Wednesday, he stressed that Florida is the most important state yet in the race:
Even if I had done really well in all these previous states, if I had not done well in Florida, it would be trouble for our campaign, so we need to win here. That's our priority. We're focused on it like a laser and we're going to win ... Don't be surprised if we don't do well in some other states next Tuesday, because we're not there. We're here.
Rubio is essentially putting all of his eggs into Florida's basket. Though he is considered by many to be the ideal GOP establishment candidate, he is also the underdog in the race against Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, who have won seven and 15 states, respectively. If Rubio can win Florida, he'll bump his number of state victories up to four. Even if Rubio wins Florida and adds its hefty 99 delegates to his current total of 163, he would still fall more than 100 delegates short of Cruz's total as he walks into Tuesday. Cruz currently holds second place with 370 delegates. According to Real Clear Politics' averages of Florida's polls, Trump is 18 points ahead of Rubio, who's still commanding a lead over Cruz in the state.
For the Democrats, Florida will either solidify Hillary Clinton's lead or significantly narrow the gap between her and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Of the 246 delegates, 32 are superdelegates, most of whom have already sided with Clinton. But, with over 200 delegates up for grabs, these superdelegates shouldn't matter greatly. So far in the race, Clinton has seen overwhelming support in the Southern region of the United States among African-Americans and women. Sanders, on the other hand, has won the hearts of voters from the nation's Midwestern and Northern regions, which tend to be a whiter demographic — including Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and (no surprise) his home state of Vermont. A Florida win could send a decisive message about his national appeal, though, and make up for any slack and put him neck-and-neck with Clinton.
Though Clinton has had better luck appealing to minorities, Sanders has a shot at gaining the support of the Hispanic population in Florida. While campaigning in the state, the two candidates have approached immigration — a topic extremely important to Florida's large Hispanic population — very differently. According to MSNBC, Clinton largely avoided the subject altogether while speaking in Ybor City, which has a large Cuban population. Prior to the Democratic debate in Florida, on the other hand, Sanders attempted to harness the support of that community by launching an ad that focused on migrant workers and the struggles they face. He went on to clearly address the immigration issue on Thursday during a rally in Tampa:
Our campaign is listening to the brothers and sisters in the Latino community. They are tired of living in the shadows, tired of living in fear, and I agree with them when they want and they are fighting for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.
Clinton and Trump are currently leading in the polls, but there are many more factors to consider in Florida. For example, though the voting booths have not yet opened, over 1.6 million voters have already sent in their absentee ballots. USA Today's Ledyard King points out how the early influx of votes could deter Rubio's rise in a significant way. For instance, absentee voters who sent their ballots in during February missed Mitt Romney's speech denouncing Trump in early March. Secondly, these voters didn't have a chance to experience the new anti-Trump ad campaign launched by AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the nation.
Meanwhile, for the Democratic nomination, the state's closed primary could play into Sanders' chances of winning if young Florida independents forgot to register as Democratic party members in time. The bottom line is that Florida's election matters greatly in this race. After Tuesday's votes are counted, America will be a handful of steps closer to determining party nominees.