John Avlon Independent Nation

08.28.12

The Swinging-est State

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Tampa. In August. At the height of Hurricane season.

Out of the 16 cities that bid for the privilege of hosting the GOP convention, Tampa won. No, it was not Michael Steele’s final punking of the party he briefly led. In fact, there was a method to his madness.

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Mladen Antonov / AFP-Getty Images

There are roughly 2.4 million registered independent voters in Florida now—up five-fold from some 430,000 in 1992. With 29 electoral votes—more than Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia combined—Florida remains the biggest swing-state prize in the presidential race. It’s hard for either team to cobble together a winning political map without it.

And Tampa is at the heart of the biggest swing state’s swinging-est district. Tampa’s Hillsborough County and its St. Petersburg-based neighbor Pinellas County sit at the center of the state and at the end of the I-4 corridor that serves as the Sunshine State’s political main artery.  

Both counties went for Obama in 2008, but in 2004, Kerry carried Pinnelas by a razor-thin 226-vote margin – 225,686 to 225,460 – while George W. Bush won CentCom's home in Hillsborough County by a seven percent margin. Both counties were Reagan Country in the 1980s and turned into Clinton Turf in the 90s. Bottom line: If you win Tampa Bay, it’s likely you’re going to win the state.  

This election will be decided by swing voters in swing districts of swing states. And while the selection of Paul Ryan may make Florida a longer-bet that Steele could have imagined back in 2010, Tim Russert’s immortal rejoinder—“Florida, Florida, Florida”—still applies.  

So that’s why we’re here in the soupy humidity of Tampa in August. Now after a day’s rain delay, as Isaac churns toward poor Louisiana, let the convention begin.