2012 Elections: News, Analysis, Videos, and Breaking on the Presidential Election, Local Elections, and More

2012 Elections: News, Analysis, Videos, and Breaking on the Presidential Election, Local Elections, and More

Complete coverage of the 2012 election

Why Florida Matters in the Race Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

With 29 electoral votes, Florida is tied with New York and behind only California and Texas in clout

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    President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Mentor High School, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in Mentor, Ohio, before traveling to Milwaukee for another Campaign event. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    Whether you call it a swing, battleground or purple state, there's no denying Florida could very well be the key to winning the 2012 election for either President Barack Obama or GOP challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

    With 29 electoral votes, Florida is tied with New York and behind only California and Texas in clout. And with the other three states already all but decided, a win in Florida could mean four years in the White House.

    "This will be the state that makes the difference," said Charles Zelden, professor of political science at Nova Southeastern University. "Any way you cut it, it’s gonna be close."

    With the exception of 1992, Florida has picked with the winner in nine of the last 10 elections, and many believe the Sunshine State will pick the winner this year.

    Enthusiasm High Among Florida's Early Voters

    [MI] Enthusiasm High Among Florida's Early Voters
    There was a long line of early voters waiting to cast their ballots at a polling place in Miramar Monday. Nearly 1.9 million votes have already been cast in Florida. Meantime, Hurricane Sandy forced the cancelation of early voting Monday in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Both presidential contenders have also called off campaign events because of the storm. Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talked about Sandy before they left the campaign trail. (Published Monday, Oct. 29, 2012)

    "It's very representative of the rest of the country," Republican Party of Florida communications director Brian Burgess told NBC 6 South Florida. "As goes Florida, so goes the nation."

    The importance of Florida has been reflected in the numerous visits throughout the state by the candidates, as well as the tens of millions of dollars spent on political advertising.

    "Florida is an important swing state, we always have been and always will be," Democratic Party of Florida communications director Brannon Jordan said. "Florida is increasingly growing more diverse and has turned more Democratic on a wide array of issues."

    This year there are 11.93 million voters in Florida, with 4.78 million registered Democrats and 4.24 million registered Republicans, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Another 2.57 million are unaffiliated.

    The three largest voting blocs are whites (7.93 million), Hispanics (1.66 million), and African-Americans (1.62 million). There are 3,552,032 whites registered as Republicans to 2,543,334 registered as Democrats.

    Democratic Hispanics outnumber Republicans 644,878 to 476,488, while Democratic African-Americans hold a large majority over African-American Republicans at 1,341,496 to 59,748.

    "The key factor to look for in Florida is what is the percentage of Latino votes," Zelden said. "If they come out in large numbers to vote, it changes the ballgame."

    While the traditionally Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans in the Miami area will have their effect on the Florida race, Zelden believes Latinos outside of South Florida could be a bigger factor.

    "The key to winning Florida is the I-4 corridor and in particular the Latin vote, namely Puerto Ricans," he said. "And it sounds like a lot of the Puerto Rican vote is Democratic-leaning."

    Zelden said it will be a matter of who shows up to vote.

    "Latinos tend to underperform, they don't vote in numbers that they should," he said. "It's who shows up to vote that matters, not who people want."

    While Florida saw record voting in 2008, largely due to the popularity of Obama, Zelden said it appears there's less enthusiasm this year.

    "I think Florida probably will vote in large numbers, whether it will be record numbers like we had four years ago, I don't know," he said, adding that early voting has shown promising signs. "There's a potential for a very big turnout in this election, people are going and standing in line for an hour or two to vote."

    While the state voted solidly in favor of Obama in '08 and George W. Bush in '04, the 2000 battle between Bush and Al Gore remains in the minds of many Floridians when it comes to elections.

    After nearly a month of recounts and a controversial Supreme Court ruling, Bush won Florida by the slimmest of margins - 537 votes out of more than 5.8 million - securing the win over Gore in the national election.