Florida Republicans: The Majority Lives Along I-4 Corridor

Dr. Susan MacManus, a distinguished political science professor at the University of South Florida.
TAMPA (2012-1-23) -

People tend to look at Florida from the outside and see it as a red state. But, the 2010 governor’s race, U.S. senate races and other statewide matches demonstrate otherwise – Florida is a two party competitive state unlike the other larger states – California, Texas and New York.

WUSF’s Bobbie O’Brien talked with University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus about a statistical snapshot of Florida Republicans she and two former students developed for the Sayfie Review.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: You pointed out that approximately 45 percent of the GOP voters are in the I-4 corridor?

SUSAN MACMANUS: The I-4 corridor is fondly referred to here as the highway to presidential political heaven. You win along this key highway and you win Florida. But it is true that 45 percent of all GOP voters live in the Tampa market and Orlando media market combined.

O’BRIEN: Is there a typical Florida Republican voter?

MACMANUS: No, there’s not. The Republicans here are as diverse as the state itself. We have everything from very conservative to somewhat liberal. I wouldn’t say we have a lot of liberal, but we have every kind of age group, every kind of ideological disposition and we also have a much more diverse religious background in our state. It’s a more sizeable Jewish population among Republicans.

O’BRIEN: I think about South Carolina, everyone talked about the Evangelical vote and that Iowa voters are all conservative. I guess the only word you could characterize Florida is diverse?

MACMANUS: Diverse, but conservative. It’s just that people’s definition of conservative differ considerably here. But it is very clear that Florida is quite different from the other states in that fiscal conservatism by far dominates social conservatism among Florida Republicans. And with Florida lagging behind the nation with its economic recovery, you can be that the candidate who sells himself as the best fiscal conservative and the one with the best plan for changing the economy around will be the one that gets the most attention.

O’BRIEN: Florida’s Republicans too aren’t very predictable. Have we seen any of these presidential candidates really excite that Tea Party that broke away from the typical GOP in Florida?

MACMANUS: The Tea Party in Florida is very diverse. You have three components of it. You have the Libertarian side of it that just wants government out of people’s lives. They’re very concerned about the intrusion of privacy into people’s lives. Then you have the person that’s really concerned about the demise of America, the slippage of America’s role in the world and they’re very constitutionally oriented. And then you have the ones who are terribly concerned about the national debt and the deficit.

O’BRIEN: How do you expect Ron Paul to do in Florida?

MACMANUS: Ron Paul will not do well in Florida among these party activists simply because I think the dominate thing Floridians are looking for is someone who can win Florida. Republican pride was greatly damaged when they lost the state and it turned blue in 2008. They don’t want a repeat and they understand full well that a vote for Ron Paul is not one that is going to yield the nominee for the party.

O’BRIEN: But now, Romney seems to have lost his luster of “I’m the candidate who can beat Obama”...

MACMANUS: There’s none of these so far that shows that they can beat Obama that’s why Florida is sort of the ‘tie-breaker’ at this moment. It doesn’t get any better than this for validating the view of some of the Republicans who went out on a limb and said we’re going to break with the ranks and we’re going to go earlier in this process than we were scheduled to and particularly when you look back at Iowa, (Rick) Santorum winning there. It really does underscore what many Republican leaders in Florida have argued and that is don’t start with a state like that which is terribly unrepresentative and where candidates have to spend a huge part of the money they’ve amassed and then it’s for naught.

O’BRIEN: I just read that Jeb Bush said he wasn’t picking a candidate. I know a lot of people behind the scenes tried to get him to run. What does that tell you that he has said ‘I’m not publicly backing anyone’?

MACMANUS: I think it’s very strategic. Jeb Bush probably has his eye on the White House at some point and you don’t really break with the ranks at this level if you have your eyes on the prize, the big prize. And I think it’s very strategic for him to stay out now because he is scheduled to play a very big role at the Republican National Convention which of course is in Tampa.

O’BRIEN: Who is backing Mitt (Romney)? Who is backing Newt (Gingrich)? Who is backing Santorum and Paul?

MACMANUS: I don’t think we have a good clear look at that, but I do think that the first poll after the debate on Monday night – that is a horse race type poll between Obama and both of these gentlemen – meaning Romney and Gingrich – the candidate that fairs best there will get a lot of attention because these Florida Republicans want to win.

You can read Dr. Susan MacManus’ statistical snapshot of Florida Republicans HERE.

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