Florida voters went to the polls Tuesday in its much-anticipated presidential primary with 99 winner-take-all delegates at stake for the GOP and with Democrats dividing up their delegates in the Sunshine State.
Republicans perhaps had the most at stake, with a chance to help a "favorite son" dig himself out of a delegate hole. Though anticipation was more muted in the Democratic contest, the race between two very different candidates drew a heavy voter turnout in what is the largest swing state in the nation.
On the Democratic side, after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders scored a big upset over her in Michigan last week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needed a win in Florida to slow down his momentum. Going into Tuesday, Clinton had a strong lead in Florida polls while Sanders seemed more content to target other states holding primaries such as Illinois, Ohio and Missouri.
For the Republicans, polls showed GOP frontrunner Donald Trump with a solid lead over Marco Rubio who placed second in almost every survey taken of Florida. Rubio’s campaign faltered in recent weeks and he needed a win on his home turf to keep his presidential aspirations alive. Ted Cruz seemed more than content for Trump to take out Rubio in Florida and John Kasich in Ohio so he could get a one-on-one showdown against the frontrunner. Kasich basically ignored Florida, letting it all ride on Ohio where he was battling Trump in the polls.
Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers from the Florida primary.
Pam Bondi. The Florida attorney general is almost always overlooked when the topic of the Sunshine State’s future is brought up since many observers don’t think she plans to run for governor or the Senate anytime soon. But Bondi remains very popular with Florida Republicans and as one of the most prominent state attorney generals in the nation. Endorsing Trump at the last minute paid dividends for Bondi and offered a reminder that she remains a force in the Sunshine State. If Trump wins the White House in November, Bondi would have to get some consideration for being attorney general in his Cabinet.
The Clintons. When it came to Florida, Hillary Clinton made it a family affair. Both Bill and Chelsea Clinton stumped the Sunshine State for the Democratic hopeful and helped her secure a convincing win over Bernie Sanders. Florida has treated the Clintons well after backing George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election because Bill Clinton carried it in 1996 over Bob Dole and Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama here back in 2008. As she shifts to general election mode, expect the Democratic frontrunner to keep her eyes firmly on Florida.
Joe Gruters. The vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) and leader of the Sarasota County GOP was an early Trump backer, having honored him over the years, and helped guide him to victory in the Sunshine State. Gruters has drawn fire for backing Trump with calls for him to resign his seat on the Florida State University board. But Gruters showed, once again, he is a force at the state level for the GOP. Gruters is still moving up the political ladder, running for a Florida House seat this year and he’s garnered some buzz as a potential candidate to lead the RPOF down the road. For the moment, Gruters is riding Trump’s coattails and was one of the big winners after the smoke cleared Tuesday.
Donald Trump. Forget the other states holding primaries Tuesday night for a moment. Trump claimed all 99 delegates at stake in Florida’s winner-take-all primary, giving him a boost as he readies for the convention. Catching both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio was no easy task in Florida but Trump did it. A loss in Florida Tuesday night would have made Trump’s path to the nomination far more difficult and a contested convention would have been near certain. The Sunshine State was the big prize on the table and Trump won it.
Carlos Curbelo. Few Republicans have taken aim -- and umbrage -- with Trump as much as this South Florida congressman. Curbelo’s been pretty clear that he loathes the idea of Trump as the Republican nominee, musing out loud if he’s a Democratic plant and saying he won’t vote for him. Curbelo is a top Democratic target in November with both Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia getting ready to line up against him. Already facing a tough assignment, Curbelo will want to put as much distance between himself and Trump as he can while the Democrats will try to pin the presidential candidate on him. With Trump drawing closer to the nomination, Curbelo has the challenge of trying to keep away from the presidential candidate while ensuring Republicans and conservatives remain in the fold.
Alan Grayson. This congressman was one of the few prominent Florida officials who backed Bernie Sanders. Granted, that will help Grayson round up liberal support as he continues his bid for the Senate. But Tuesday’s results also give a boost to his primary rival Patrick Murphy. With most of Clinton’s supporters backing Murphy over him and few inroads into the African American community, Grayson has an uphill climb even if he currently does have a lead over Murphy in some polls.
Marco Rubio. The junior senator from Florida had a bad night, losing his home state to Donald Trump. Rubio’s window to win up with the nomination was barely open heading into Tuesday; the loss in Florida slammed it shut. Bowing to reality, Rubio got out of the race on Tuesday night. There’s already talk about Rubio running for governor in 2018 but he underwhelmed so badly in the primary that it will be tough for him to bounce back. Add into the equation the Jeb Bush factor. Some of Bush’s team never quite forgave Rubio for getting in the race, undermining the former governor. It was telling that Bush himself stayed on the sidelines before the primary and so did plenty of his supporters. The final days of the campaign saw Rubio relying on Republicans from outside the Sunshine State like Rick Santorum and Mia Love in his last effort. That didn’t work and Rubio now leaves the presidential race to head into political limbo, at least for the short term.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The DNC chairwoman has to be relieved that her old ally Hillary Clinton pulled off the win in Florida but she is drawing increased fire from Bernie Sanders backers and other Democrats. Wasserman Schultz is now getting hit for not giving challengers to incumbents access to voter files, including her own primary opponent Tim Canova. The presidential primary has also led to more interest in politics in general even as there are now TV spots taking aim at Wasserman Schultz. This primary season is far from over and it is taking a toll on the South Florida congresswoman.
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