ORLANDO, Fla -- Once again, Florida is turning out to be a make or break state in the 2012 election season. Both President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are focusing their campaigns on winning over the Sunshine State's diverse group of voters.
As Republicans and the media flood into Tampa before the start of the Republican National Convention, which was delayed until Tuesday because of Tropical Storm Isaac, all eyes will be on how well the Romney campaign's message resonates with Florida voters.
The country's biggest swing state has grown in size and importance since President Obama won its 27 electoral votes in 2008. The state's increased population bumped its electoral prize up to 29 votes this November, reports the Orlando Sentinel. That's more than one tenth of the total number needed to win the White House.
"The Republican nominee has not won the White House without carrying Florida since Calvin Coolidge," Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel. "So I would say Florida is pretty important for Republicans in November."
Two of the state's biggest demographics, hispanics and seniors, could hold the key to the White House. Florida's seniors represent about 17 percent of the state's 18.8 million residents, reports the San Francisco Gate.
The 'senior spotlight' is going to be even stronger after the vice presidential selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Many seniors count Medicare as one of their top issues and Ryan is the author of a controversial House budget proposal to overhaul Medicare and Social Security.
A recent Florida poll showed that selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate hasn’t given Mitt Romney a significant boost in the polls but hasn't scared away seniors concerned about threats of turning Medicare into a voucher program.
Overall, Obama has a narrow 3 percentage point lead over Romney in Florida, which is barely within the margin of error, reports AP.
The Orlando Sentinel's electoral math, based on polling and voting patterns, shows that without Florida, Romney would need to win nearly every other swing state to reach a total 270 electoral votes.
The state is trying to clean up its image after more than a decade of notoriously close elections.
“Florida is desperately trying not to be the next Florida,” Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law and author of the new book, “The Voting Wars,” told the Washington Post.
The next few months will see a flurry of legal battles over who, when and where will be able to cast ballots in the November election. A new law passed in 2011 by the Republican legislator and signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott makes no less than 75 changes to the state's voting laws including restricting who can register voters and imposing time limits on early voting.
Last week, a panel of federal judges ruled against new limits on early voting for five counties that receive special scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act, reports the Washington Post. The ruling declared that Florida “has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.”
Tropical Storm Isaac is putting a wrench into both campaigns plans to woo Florida voters. Romney needs a bounce in the polls from the Republican convention without distractions from a hurricane. Vice President Joe Biden canceled plans to visit Tampa, Orlando and St. Augustine because of concerns over the weather, reports Reuters.