2012 Republican National Convention
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PALM HARBOR, Fla. - The Republican Party's decision to gather in Tampa to officially nominate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president underlines what is quickly becoming an imperative: Carrying the Sunshine State.
The message was already sent by the decision to have former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the state's most popular political figures, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the party's rising stars, assume prime-time speaking roles during the get-together. But party figures now are beginning to actually voice the necessity of the state instead of just suggesting it.
"Florida, we need you," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told the Florida delegation during a breakfast. "We can't win this without Florida; we can't."
While Haley's remarks could be written off as a friendly gesture toward a swing state with which South Carolina shares a resort at the convention, they struck on a key truth: It would be incredibly difficult for Romney to win in November without carrying Florida.
In fact, if Obama were to carry Florida, and even if Romney were to win North Carolina, Romney would need to win a majority of the votes in the remaining swing states to win the Electoral College. But Obama has performed well in polls in many of the remaining states, especially large prizes like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.
Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, put it more bluntly when asked if Romney could lose the state and win the White House.
"No," Curry said. "Mitt Romney cannot win the presidency without Florida."
But whether holding the convention in Tampa will help swing Florida and its treasure trove of 29 electoral votes - more than a tenth of those needed for victory - to Romney remains an open question.
"There's very little evidence that a convention helps carry a state," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
In fact, the Republicans haven't won the state in which they held their convention since 1992, when they held it in Texas. The GOP lost California in 1996 after holding the convention in San Diego; Pennsylvania in 2000 despite holding the confab in Philadelphia; deep blue New York when they held it in the city of the same name; and Minnesota four years ago, when Republicans gathered in St. Paul.
Holding the convention in Florida, though, isn't necessarily fruitless. It could help along the margins, some observers say. MacManus said it could fire up the base of the party in Florida, a state that is particularly critical to Romney's hopes of winning in November.
And the GOP will be the major story in the Tampa Bay area, along with the rest of America, over the four nights of the gathering.
"The point of the convention is really just to introduce a candidate and drive home a message," said Brian Graham, a Republican strategist not affiliated with the Romney campaign.
But even without much of a post-convention bump, Curry said that Romney was in a good position to win the state. He said that the party was zeroing in on the independent vote after exciting the base.
"It looks like we're there," Curry said. "It looks like we have the energy. So now we have to carry the Mitt Romney message, the jobs message, the opportunity message to the independents, to the I-4 corridor, to Hillsborough County."