Five days before Florida residents cast their ballots in the Republican primary on March 15, the presidential hopefuls will be walking across the stage at the BankUnited Center (BUC) in the 12th Republican debate, casting the national spotlight on the University of Miami and the state of Florida.
Professors from the school’s political science department said Miami was chosen as the location for the debate because of its population as well as UM’s history of hosting debates, including two primary debates in 2007 and a general-election debate.
“Miami is a major metropolitan area with a large media market; the BUC is large enough to hold the event and UM has a long history of engagement with presidential elections, including hosting debates,” professor Casey Klofstad said.
Professor Arthur Simon said it’s no coincidence that Miami-Dade College is hosting a Democratic Debate before the Florida primary. That debate will be just a day before the Republican one at UM.
“It is the symbolism of being in a large city, in a large state, right before voting takes place,” Simon said. “The primaries are important for setting the tone for the rest of the race as well as determining the likelihood of a candidate doing well in the general election.”
Klofstad added that the state’s population means that the primary carries extra significance.
“The Florida primary is significant because it is one of the most populous states in the country and thus carries a great number of delegates,” he said.
For this election season specifically, it can be argued that Florida has a greater importance than it had in previous years. Professor Gregory Koger pointed out that the primary, scheduled for March 15, is important because March 15 is the first date in which a state can give all of its delegates to the winner of its primary. Whoever wins the primary will get all 99 delegates from Florida instead of only receiving a share. He added that multiple candidates have personal connections to the state.
“Depending on how you look at it, either two or four of the GOP candidates are from Florida,” Koger said. “Rubio and Bush both built careers here. Huckabee and Carson both have homes here.”
While Simon seconded these points and believes that the Florida primary will be the determining factor in Rubio’s and Bush’s campaign, he also said the heightened importance of the Florida primary comes down to how the candidates enter the primary.
“It will all depend what happens earlier on in the primaries. It is quite conceivable that the decisions about nominees will be more or less decided by the earlier primaries. However, if the battle is still close, then failing here will be the finish for a few candidates,” Simon said. “If Rubio and Bush do not place in the top two in their own backyard, it is the end of the road.”
Before the candidates anxiously await vote tallies, they must take the stage in the Republican primary debate.
“The ‘cause de jour’ seems to dominate debates this season, and that part of the challenge for the candidates and voters is measuring responses to the unpredictable,” Simon said.
While this is definitely the case, patterns have emerged in each of the two main political parties according to Koger, who believes that the focal points of the GOP debate will be electability, immigration and national security. Simon added that the four candidates with connections to Florida could make history because, he said, it is “by far the largest state never to produce a major-party candidate for president or vice president.”
“Four Florida residents are in the running this year,” he said. “So, one would think that this might be the year. Then again, we could be looking at a situation where none of those candidates are even front runners after a few primaries.”