Is Florida the GOP's Waterloo?
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Florida may be the killing field in the war for the Republican presidential nomination. That's because two major candidates call Florida home, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE. Losing their home state's primary would be a hard hit for either one; maybe a fatal blow. And because at least one of them can't win, the drama is heightened and the stakes are high.

Expect both candidates to spend a lot of time and money in the Florida primary, the third largest state in America. Recent polling shows the primary battle is close, with Bush posting a small lead over Rubio.


One intriguing possibility that isn't being discussed is the opportunity for a collective maneuver by the non-Florida candidates to set up either Bush or Rubio for defeat. To do this, the non-Floridians need to wait and see which of the state's favorite sons poses the biggest threat to their own nomination prospects. If Bush looks like the candidate to beat going into 2016, they could aim to take him out. If Rubio seems the bigger menace, they could go after him.

To pull off this maneuver, all the non-Florida candidates would have to do is — nothing. Literally. Here's why: Polls have shown that Florida Republicans who’d vote for Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.), former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Dr. Ben CarsonBen CarsonRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party Sunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Government indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong MORE, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government The CDC's Title 42 order fuels racism and undermines public health Ocasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday MORE (Texas), former Gov. Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature Trump tries to spin failed Texas endorsement: 'This was a win' MORE (Texas) or former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) as their first choice often pick Rubio as their second choice. That means that if these candidates don't campaign in the Florida primary, their supporters will drift away and likely end up in Rubio's column. That would give Rubio a better chance to overtake Bush.

However, if Rubio is the one they want to eliminate, then the non-Florida candidates would then campaign in the Sunshine State for the specific purpose of peeling off votes from Rubio in his battle against Bush for home-state supremacy.

This kind of ganging-up is nothing new. We saw it in the 1976 Florida Democratic presidential primary. It was the showdown contest between two candidates from states bordering Florida: Jimmy Carter of Georgia and George Wallace of Alabama. Democrats from outside the South saw the match-up as an opportunity to knock out Wallace once and for all as a national player. To beat Wallace, they decided that there needed to be a united anti-Wallace vote. So they pressured other Democratic presidential candidates to stay out of the Florida primary and let Carter have Wallace to himself.

As you may recall, Wallace's slogan was "Send Them A Message!" So Carter countered with "Send Them A President" — in effect, telling fellow Southerners to actually elect the next White House occupant and not just register a protest.

The maneuver worked flawlessly, until Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-Wash.) broke ranks and campaigned in Florida, risking a split in the anti-Wallace vote. But Carter prevailed anyway, beating Wallace 35 percent to 31 percent. Jackson, who rightly feared Carter would gain unstoppable momentum by defeating Wallace, ran third with 24 percent.

No matter how you cut the cards, Florida will be a big prize in 2016. The GOP primary is likely to be a fascinating battle with lots of money spent — and maybe a little old-fashioned intrigue along the way.

Faucheux is president of Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan polling firm. He publishes Lunchtime Politics, a daily newsletter on polling and is former editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine.