Looking Beyond IA, Candidates Blow Through Florida

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Most eyes may be on Iowa and New Hampshire, but there is plenty of political activity going on in Florida as presidential candidates realize the Sunshine State is not only a fund-raising depot, but that it could be the first 'Big State" to show which aspirants have large scale appeal based on mass media.

"Television, the Internet and national news reports will be the major means of reaching voters" in the short period between the early caucuses and primaries and Florida's Jan. 29 primary, said communications consultant and Democratic activist Eric Rosenberg. "We also are expecting an onslaught of campaigning in Florida in the few days after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries"

Actually, the campaigning and fund-raising is already underway, especially the political warfare between former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Huckabee flew into Miami Wednesday hunting for cash, following his highly televised pheasant hunting media event in Iowa. There was a closed-to-the-media fundraiser at the home of a Republican attorney during the south Florida stop. He then flew to Orlando for two more fund-raisers. Huckabee says he will raise enough funds to wage a competitive campaign in the Florida primary and emphasized that Florida House Speaker Mark Rubio and Senate Majority leader Daniel Webster, both staunch conservatives, would co-chair his Sunshine State effort, while repeating his anti--abortion stance.

Speaker Rubio has taken to the airwaves on Spanish-language radio, hoping to boost Huckabee among Cuban-Americans, traditionally a large GOP voting group. Huckabee - who initially favored ending the embargo on Cuba - changed his position on the island nation earlier in December while in Miami, with a strong pitch for the Cuban-American vote.

Meanwhile, Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist - an intra-party foe of Rubio - has been helping Mayor Giuliani.

Giuliani is fast making Florida his temporary home, with multiple stops the past few days. On Wednesday Giuliani was on the Gulf Coast campaigning, Thursday in vote-rich Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Hollywood, and Friday he had scheduled rallies in the Orlando area. He has been concentrating on law enforcement and veterans' groups. "He really needs to win Florida," Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at Orlando's University of Central Florida told the Florida Sun-Sentinel, noting that Gov. Crist's former campaign staff is helping Giuliani.

Giuliani also is counting on transplanted Northeasterners living in South and Central Florida to give him a boost. He has been making only limited stops in Iowa and in New Hampshire, where reports have him trailing other GOP hopefuls.

The Democrats also have been eyeing Florida, for its cash potential and for its votes, but in a much less personal way. Because the Democratic National Committee has told Florida its delegation would not be seated at the national convention because it is in violation of party rules by holding an early primary, candidates had to pledge not to campaign in Florida. But, the no-campaigning rule does not exclude fund-raising, nationally run TV advertising, Internet solicitation, national news appearances or debates. (Two debates are set for the candidates on January 23 and January 25 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, just a few days before the primary. It has yet to be announced which party will debate first.)

Former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd have a full-blown effort to reach for cash donations from Florida. Ditto for Sen. Hillary Clinton who also has her husband - First Gentlemen hopeful Bill Clinton - acting as a surrogate at fundraising events. Michelle Obama has been the star at some highly publicized big money events for her husband, Sen. Barack Obama.

It has been widely reported that when Elizabeth Edwards (wife of Sen. Edwards) was in Florida, she was attending mostly charity events, such as raising funds for cancer awareness.

Edwards' fans - including many of those who were part of the 2004 Wesley Clark campaign in Florida - say that if Edwards does well in Iowa, they are preparing to run an Internet and organizational campaign for him in Florida. Others noted they - including the General himself - are campaigning for Sen. Clinton.
Appearances on national news shows and Friday's newspaper headlines also continue to be a major source of candidates' exposure to the Florida public.

Edwards was notably among the first to appear on CNN's special report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto Thursday night and said he had already spoken to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and had urged him to continue an effort toward "democracy" with a January election there and had asked him for international election monitors. Sen. Obama - as well as Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney - also used news programs to discuss their know-how to handle an international tragedy such as happened in Pakistan. Gov. Richardson got major exposure, calling for Pakistan's president to resign and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Biden - showing his foreign relations credentials - got coverage of his news conference announcing he earlier had urged Musharraf to give protection to Bhutto.

Despite the shunning of Florida Democratic delegates, most insiders believe - come convention time - no one is going to want to ignore Florida's 27 electoral votes. DNC Committeewoman Dianne Glasser of Tamarac, says the presidential candidates (especially those who win seats in the Jan. 29 primary) are going to demand Florida delegates be seated. And, Joe Garcia, Miami-Dade Democratic Chairman and a possible congressional candidate, also said he believed the Florida delegation would be seated. "We are the state that elects Presidents," he said.

Florida is going to be the first Big State (fourth in population among the 50 States). And its outcome will probably influence some two dozen other states (including California, New York, and New Jersey) which will vote on Super-Super Tuesday, Feb.5.

In the meantime, Democrats from most states can now make reservations for hotels in Denver for the Aug 25-28 national convention, but the DNC has not assigned a hotel for Floridians. "No room at the inn for us?" has emerged as a Democratic battle cry.

Republicans have slapped Florida by cutting its delegate strength in half.

Nevertheless, locals believe all the candidates surviving after the early primaries will have their eyes set on Florida and will force the full delegations to be seated. Leaders of both parties say that Florida eventually will be the spot in which a president will be elected.