With 29 electoral votes, Florida is the most glittering prize in this year's presidential election. Without a win in the nation's biggest swing state, it's hard to come up with a scenario that keeps Barack Obama in the White House.
Since 1960, only one winner has captured the presidency without carrying the Sunshine State, said Lynn University American studies professor Robert Watson. "Florida is vital," he said.
In 2008, Obama won 51 percent of the vote in Florida, besting Republican Sen. John McCain by 236,450 votes out of nearly 8.4 million votes cast. For Obama to repeat, Watson and state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said he must minimize losses in conservative north Florida, run competitively in the Interstate 4 corridor in central Florida, and win big in South Florida.
Here's what political analysts and operatives say Democrats must do to make that happen — and, conversely, what Republicans must prevent.
Convince independents Obama's on their side and motivate them to vote
Neither Democrats nor Republicans have enough voters to win a statewide election. That puts the power to determine the winner in the hands of the one in four Florida voters who aren't registered with either party.
As in 2008, Obama's "got to win independents," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "If he does that again, he's going to get re-elected."
Independent/no party affiliation voters swing between parties depending on which candidates they think can do the best job. But they also don't vote as often as people committed to a party.
Robin Rorapaugh, a Democratic strategist from Hollywood, thinks Obama can reach independents, and also get them to the polls. "Independent voters believe he's honest. They like him," she said. "He doesn't look radical."
State Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, incoming Democratic leader in the state House, said the ongoing fight for the Republican nomination, with candidates emphasizing conservative positions to win votes from the party's base and tea party activists, is boosting Obama's electability.
"The Republicans have done such a good job of pushing their candidates to the far right, it's going to be difficult to come back to capture many of the independents," he said.
Mobilize key constituencies
Few doubt that traditional Democratic voting blocs — blacks, non-Cuban Hispanics, Jews, 20-somethings and seniors — will mostly go Democratic again on Nov. 6. The big unknown is whether they'll show up in same big numbers as in 2008.
If they don't, that's bad news for the president.
"If Obama doesn't get a big turnout, Obama's going to lose," said Watson.
To help build turnout, Randolph and John Ramos, state Democratic committeeman from Palm Beach County and second vice president of the state Hispanic Democratic Caucus, said they're working to reach out to young voters and Hispanics.
Demographers estimate 600,000 Jews live in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, and Watson said Jewish voters are critical to Obama's chances. Obama received an estimated 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. Since he took office, Republicans have been working hard to undermine the decades-long allegiance of Jewish Americans to the Democratic Party by arguing the president isn't sufficiently supportive of Israel.
Democrats have responded with outreach efforts to Jewish voters led by national party chairwoman U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.
Galvanized by Obama's historic candidacy, millions of new black voters cast ballots in 2008, producing a black turnout of 65.2 percent, up from 60.3 percent in the 2004 presidential election. Nobody really expects such a heavy turnout in 2012, but the Obama campaign is campaigning heavily on historically black college and university campuses, and also at barber shops and beauty salons, which are centers of black neighborhoods.
5 things Obama needs to win Florida (or that Republicans must counter)
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.