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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Why Fla is America's most important state



russert.jpgWelcome to Florida, Republican conventioneers.

Let's not mince words: You are in the most important state in America.

You already know this is America's biggest battleground and that if Mitt Romney loses our 29 electoral votes Barack Obama is almost certainly re-elected. But with Florida it's more than that.

This is a mega state so diverse that it mirrors the nation's moods, sentiments and demographics. Florida is America — today's America and tomorrow's.

"It's become a nation-state, just as New York and California were at their peak and Ohio was a century ago," said historian Richard Norton Smith, a venerable chronicler of American politics.

Floridians are Southerners, Midwesterners, Northeasterners. They're also Cubans, Brazilians, Indians and Germans. Nearly two-thirds came from another state, and one in five was born outside the United States.

"Florida is a microcosm of our country," said former Gov. Jeb Bush. "Floridians are from all walks of life, backgrounds and economic levels. It's not just the people. Our economy is diverse and so are our cities, from large urban areas to suburbs to rural agricultural lands."

Demographically Florida matches the country in terms of white, African-American and Hispanic people. It mirrors the country in its proportion of rural, suburban and urban residents. It has a greater proportion of seniors, but in that sense the state reflects what's looming for other states.

"If you look at all the constituencies that are either dynamic or emerging, they're all there," said Ralph Reed, the Faith and Freedom Coalition chair who grew up in Miami in the 1970s and whose parents grew up there decades earlier. "Florida looks today, in political, demographic, political and economic terms, like what the rest of the country is likely to look like in 40 to 50 years."

Bob Graham, Florida's Democratic governor from 1979 to 1987 and U.S. senator from 1987 to 2005, said that gives Florida an elevated obligation.

"We have a responsibility in how we handle some of these issues," Graham said. "We will either be a positive model for how we handle age and international population or we can set a very bad example and lead to a period of turmoil."

So maybe you know Florida for its freak-show nature — the Butterfly ballot, Miami's face-eating zombie, a magnet for mystics, carnies and charlatans — but it's more than fascinating.

Thousands of Republicans will gather in Tampa this week for the Republican National Convention to sort out the nation's problems and possibilities and make Romney their presidential nominee.

Why here?

Because if you're going to declare you're the party to make this nation better, there is no more important nor strategic place to make that point than Florida.

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[Last modified: Sunday, August 26, 2012 9:09am]


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