ST. PETERSBURG — Even before the polls opened Tuesday for Florida's Republican presidential primary, more than 40 percent of the vote was already in, a sign of the growing importance of the state's early and absentee voting system.
Nearly 1.7 million Republicans voted overall. That was about 14 percent fewer than 2008, a point Democrats said showed a lack of enthusiasm for the GOP candidates.
There are roughly 4 million registered Republicans in Florida, and the state GOP had predicted turnout could hit 2 million.
Brian Hughes, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, countered that the prediction was based on intensity shown through early and absentee voting. But, he added, that died down last week when polls put Mitt Romney way ahead and candidates such as Newt Gingrich were openly turning attention to other states.
Hughes noted that in 2008, voters were drawn to polls by the Amendment 1 property tax cut.
He said the state GOP had not spent any money yet on get-out-the-vote effort but will once a nominee is set: "We're very excited about the position we're in."
About 680,000 people took part in early voting, according to the Florida Division of Elections, an increase of more than 100,000 from the 2008 Republican primary.
Though a breakdown of which candidate captured those votes was not available, it is widely assumed that Romney pulled a majority due to his detailed and aggressive effort to bank votes before the primary.