All eyes are on Iowa Tuesday night – but in just four short weeks, they will be on Florida.
And after Iowa winnows the field of Republican presidential candidates, Florida will be the first big state where the GOP contenders try to show they can “run a primary like you run a general election wholesale,” says Charles Zelden, a professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
"If you can win Florida you have proven you got what it takes to run the table, go to the convention and have the chance of being the candidate of your party,” Zelden says.
The most fluid Republican presidential race in recent memory has former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Congressman Ron Paul shooting for a win in Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses beginning at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday night.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has fallen dramatically in the polls in recent weeks, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann are trying to do better than expected.
The New Hampshire primary follows a week from now. Then comes South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
"Is Iowa setting Florida’s table? Essentially it is,” says Zelden, whose specialties include voting rights, election law, and 20th-century American history.
"You are going to get a lot of politics aimed at you. We can expect a constant round of TV ads, direct mailing, people knocking on your doors,” he says.
Already, Romney’s campaign is going on the air in Florida: it announced Tuesday that it will begin running an ad here that promotes him as a leader of “steadiness and constancy,’ and emphasizes his 42-year marriage, The Associated Press reported. The ad has also aired in Iowa and other early states.
But interest, and enthusiasm, appears low among voters in Florida so far.
"Frankly, I do not have much faith in any of them,” Larry Turner says, adding that many of the candidates “lack creditability” and are “not in the real world.”
Another voter NBC Miami spoke with said of the field, “I don’t like ’em. Don’t like ’em, honest to God!”
Zelden predicts the campaign will whittle down to just two candidates after Florida.
Once-and-again frontrunner Romney has the funds and organization behind him, but half of Republicans do not like him, Zelden notes.
“If he can do well in Florida that could be the end of the game, and then Republicans are stuck with a candidate they do not want,” he says.