Florida could have major impact on GOP candidacy

Republican Presidential Candidates, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, participated in a debate at the USF campus on Monday. Tony Gordon//The Oracle

Early voting polls for the Republican primary elections opened last week in the state of Florida. With the November presidential elections quickly approaching, four contenders from the Republican Party are competing for candidacy as the party’s presidential nominee.

“Primary elections, which parties use to pick their presidential candidate, are some of the most interesting choices voters can make,” political science professor Gregory Koger said. “This year, the Republicans are choosing from four candidates who each represent a different path for the Republican Party and the future of the country, so it matters a great deal who wins.”

The four presidential hopefuls were at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa on Monday evening to debate on issues relevant to the campaign.

The debate at USF, which included a heated discussion between contenders Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, wasn’t as politically meaningful as that which took place in South Carolina earlier this month. The topics discussed in Tampa strayed from those pertinent to state policies and issues.

The next Republican primary debate in Florida is scheduled to take place on Thursday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville at 8 p.m.

Despite the wins by Gingrich, Romney and Rick Santorum in past primary elections, there still appears to be no clear nominee for the Republican Party.

Three different candidates won the past three primary elections. Romney won the elections in New Hampshire, while Santorum won in Iowa (albeit after a miscalculation during vote-counting) and Gingrich won in South Carolina. Former contenders Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry endorsed Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, respectively.

“At this point, three different candidates have won the first three primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, so Florida is in an excellent position to give one candidate a tremendous advantage throughout the rest of the process,” Koger said.

With a total of 29 electoral votes in the general elections, candidates are surely looking to gather as much support from residents as possible. According to an article in The Miami Herald, in Florida, more than 4 million Republicans are registered to vote in this year’s primary.

Though voter turnout is usually lower in primaries, according to Koger, college voters usually do make an impact by voting in the general elections.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), youth (people ages 18-29) voter turnout rose to 51 percent in 2008, an increase of two percentage points from the 2004 presidential election. No information regarding the 2010 midterm election was provided on the website.

“Students who are interested in Republican politics can have a real impact on this election because turnout is usually lower in primaries; this means that each vote matters a bit more,” Koger said.

Senior Vince Foster, past president of UM College Republicans, said he would also encourage students to vote.

“I vote in the Republican primaries because I have a vested interest in the outcome,” he said.

Early voting in the primary elections in Florida began last week, and runs through Saturday. The Florida primary election will be on Tuesday.

Unlike other states, however, primary elections in Florida are closed.

That is, only voters who are registered members of political parties may vote for their respective party candidates for an office in a primary election.

According to Florida’s Division of Elections website, “That is why it is important to indicate your preferred party affiliation at the time you register. If you leave the field blank on the registration form, you will be registered without party affiliation.”

For more information on the four GOP presidential candidates, check out the Jan. 26 issue of the Miami Hurricane.