Matt Rourke, Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Mitt Romney's ties to the Northeast gave him a boost on the way to winning the New Hampshire primary. Newt Gingrich's roots in the South probably had at least a little to do with his South Carolina triumph.
Neither presidential candidate is expected to benefit from such geographic ties in next week's Republican primary in Florida, a diverse state suffering through a world of economic hurt.
"Geography will not play any role in my decision," said Rich Cole, sounding like many voters across the state.
Cole, 68, lives in Florida's largest retirement community, The Villages, and hails from Pennsylvania, which candidate Rick Santorum represented in the Senate. Cole said he likes Santorum but plans to back Romney, for whom he voted four years ago. He thinks Romney gives Republicans the best chance of beating President Barack Obama in November.
A self-described "God-fearing conservative," Larry Dos Santos, of Venice, was leaning toward backing Gingrich. Dos Santos, a 65-year-old retiree from New York who lived nearly all his life on Long Island, noted that the former House speaker has some qualities that remind him of home.
"Telling it like it is is definitely like a New Yorker," he said of the former Georgia congressman. "Nobody pulls punches in New York."
While a candidate's roots may earn them kinship in Florida, hometown ties are unlikely to earn them a vote in a year when many Republicans here tell pollsters that electability and the economy are the two factors that rank above all else as they decide who to support in Tuesday's primary.
Geography seemed to make a difference in previous contests this year.
Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, led comfortably in polls ahead of the New Hampshire primary and played up his New England ties often. He won by roughly 17 percentage points. In South Carolina, Gingrich spent more than a week emphasizing his Southern ties even though he had spent the better part of a decade living near Washington. Gingrich ended up winning the state by about 12 percentage points.
But Florida is different, and in no way homogeneous.
Although it is home to the southern-most tip of the U.S., Florida's overall culture is hardly Southern. It's filled with transplants from the Northeast and Midwest who settled along the Gold and Gulf coasts, as well as so-called snowbirds who spend part of the year here only to keep their voter registrations in other states.
Florida's southern region has huge Hispanic and Caribbean influences. The northwestern Panhandle has some communities that strongly identify with parts of the Deep South. Add in the huge, transient military presence around Jacksonville and elsewhere, and just about everybody can call themselves a Floridian.
All things being equal, Romney might be able to count on benefiting from the support of New Yorkers, who constitute one of the largest populations of non-native Floridians now living in the state, and other New Englanders. And Gingrich could seemingly count on the support of those in the conservative Panhandle, which borders Georgia.
"In a different kind of year, geographical roots could have an impact in Florida, but not this year," said Jennifer Donahue, a public policy fellow at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. "Florida has been hit so hard by the housing crisis that perhaps the only thing that will help a candidate reach voters is by articulating a vision that will help Florida's economy."
There's no guarantee that candidates can count on geographic ties. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani hoped the love of transplanted New Yorkers would carry him to victory here four years ago. He ended up falling flat.
This year, Sean Foreman, a political science professor at Barry University in Miami Shores, said ideology trumps regional appeal.
- 'Burger King baby' now seeks birth mom on...
- Malaysian military says missing jet changed...
- Men with stolen passports on missing Malaysia...
- Supreme Court sides with Wyoming landowner;...
- Malaysian plane mystery: Stolen passports, 5...
- 'Noah' banned in three countries weeks before...
- Japan marks 3rd anniversary of earthquake,...
- Senate Democrats choose election strategy:...
- Early auditions for 2016 Republican... 29
- Senate Democrats choose election... 20
- Half of millennials more likely to lean... 19
- 'Noah' banned in three countries weeks... 18
- Supreme Court sides with Wyoming... 16
- Rutgers faculty council pushes for... 14
- Obama economists: Rosier picture if... 14
- Utah among states wrestling with... 10