Pop quiz: Can you name this state? Here are some clues:
— In American history, the major political parties have never nominated a presidential or vice presidential candidate from this state.
— Since 1976 every Republican presidential candidate who has won this state’s primary election has gone on to win his party’s nomination.
— Starting with the 1996 presidential election, the candidate from the party that won the Electoral College votes from this state also won the White House.
— According to the latest RealClearPolitics poll averages, four out of the top five Republican primary candidates vying to win the presidential nomination are either full-time or part-time residents of this state.
— The leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the second in command at the Republican National Committee, Sharon Day, are both residents of this state.
Pencils down. If you guessed Florida, give yourself 10 points.
The Sunshine State’s impact on the 2016 election will be undeniable. A strong case can be made that as Florida votes, so votes the nation.
But politics is unpredictable, and historic trends do not hold forever, so let’s explore which of these Florida trends are most likely to stand in 2016.
The fact that no major-party presidential or vice presidential candidate has ever hailed from Florida is the trend least likely to hold when you consider the following:
Incumbent Florida senator Marco Rubio was born in Miami in 1971.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has lived in the state since 1980.
Dr. Ben Carson relocated to West Palm Beach in 2013 after retiring as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
Then there’s Donald Trump, officially a resident of New York City. Trump, however, has many strong business and personal ties to Florida. Back in 1985, Trump bought the historic Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and spends much time there, especially during the winter months.
Chances are high that one of these four candidates will win the March 15 Florida primary.
But it remains to be seen if the pattern, first established in 1976, that Florida’s Republican primary winner goes on to become the party’s presidential nominee will hold true in 2016. (1976 was when President Gerald Ford won the state and fended off Ronald Reagan’s primary challenge.)
The track records of the two most recent GOP presidential primaries are worth noting.
In 2008, John McCain emerged victorious after defeating both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. (Giuliani dropped out the very next day and Romney shortly thereafter.) Then, in 2012, Romney won a heavily contested Florida battle against Newt Gingrich.
This cycle, the pressure is on for Bush and Rubio to win their home state’s primary. Fail here, and either candidate could pull a “Rudy Giuliani” the next day.
Meanwhile, Trump too must win the Florida primary to prove that he is a mainstream candidate and potentially viable in a general election.
Here is what we know today: Florida’s primary will be brutal, expensive, and consequential. Furthermore, it will be a harbinger of Florida’s decisive role in determining who will become the next president of the United States.
With its 29 electoral votes, Florida ranks as the third biggest Electoral College prize, tied with New York. These two states are surpassed only by Texas with 38 votes and California with 55.
Unfortunately for Republicans — if “traditional” state presidential voting patterns, established since 1988 and 1992, hold true in 2016 — it is imperative that Florida’s 29 votes land in the “red” column in order for the GOP ticket to have any chance of reaching 270 electoral votes.
Democrats seem to have a bit more wiggle room: In the 2008 and 2012 elections, Barack Obama could have lost Florida’s electoral votes and still easily reached the winning number of 270. But it is notable, with consequences for 2016, that in 2012 Obama won Florida by only 1% of the vote, and it’s possible that the next Democratic presidential nominee won’t have such a thick padding of electoral votes.
Historically, Florida’s influence on presidential elections looks like this:
Since 1996 every winning presidential candidate has won Florida’s electoral votes.
The last time a Republican presidential candidate won Florida but still lost the election was back in 1992. This was when Arkansas governor Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush in a quirky three-way race with Ross Perot.
Then came the 2000 election. If you were too young, Google “Florida 2000 election.” There you will learn about the epic Supreme Court battle that ensued over whether Texas governor George W. Bush or Vice President Al Gore should have been awarded Florida’s electoral votes and the presidency.
Now as we edge closer to the 2016 primary season, there are two factors that could greatly impact which party wins Florida and, subsequently, the White House.
First is Florida’s fast growing Hispanic population. In 2012 Obama garnered 60% of Hispanic votes, which then made up 17% of all Florida voters. (Expect that number to be at least a few points higher in 2016.)
Second, and related, is an “exodus” of Puerto Rican residents fleeing to Florida from their economically challenged island. Most are already U.S. citizens who largely lean Democrat. (It should be no surprise that Hillary Clinton visited Puerto Rico in September and Jeb Bush did the same in April.)
Finally, when you consider Florida’s historic electoral and political trends, it becomes clear that what happens in Florida does not stay in Florida — like sunshine, it is felt everywhere.
Cross-posted at National Review Online