50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 27. Florida

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

27. Florida

Capital: Tallahassee

Nickname: The Sunshine State

Motto: In God We Trust

About the State

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Florida was home to Native Americans from many different tribes, including the Apalachee,  who primarily lived in the Panhandle in the North-West; and the Calusa, who were resided in the south-west region.  As in other areas, the colonists from Europe brought over diseases such as small pox that the Native Americans did not have any natural immunity to, resulting in epidemics and a decimation of their number.  The Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who according to legend was searching for the Fountain of Youth, instead found Florida and attempted to start a colony there in 1521, but he was thwarted by the indigenous people.  Spain continued to colonise the region and San Agustin in the Northeast (today called St. Augustine) is the longest continually inhabited settlement established by Europeans in the US – although it was attacked and burned in 1586 by the English navigator and pirate, Sir Francis Drake.  Florida was continued to be ruled by the Spanish until after the Seven Years’ War, when control was traded with the British, who in exchange returned Havana, Cuba, which they had captured during the conflict.

During their rule, Britain divided Florida into East and West and both stayed loyal to the crown during the Revolutionary war.  In the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which ended the conflict, control of East and West Florida returned to the Spanish, but they had little interest in establishing a large presence there.  Both the Americans and British were unhappy with Spain having jurisdiction of the region and, in 1810, the English settlers who had remained there established the “Free and Independent Republic of West Florida”, which flew the “Bonnie Blue Flag” and lasted for exactly 90 days.  That same year, President James Madison claimed the area was part of the Louisiana Purchase and thus issued a proclamation that annexed most of West Florida to the United States, with more being collected in 1812 to the Mississippi Territory.  The Seminole Tribe – who had formed out of former members of the Creek during the period of British rule – had been offering refuge to escaped slaves, as well as launching attacks against Georgia from East Florida, leading to the First Seminole War, with American troops being led by General Andrew Jackson.

Spain no longer considered the colony worth keeping and handed control over to the United States in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1821, the following year America organised West and East Florida into a single territory.  Between 1835 and 1842, the Second Seminole War was fought, after the Native American tribe had killed all but 1 of 110 US troops who had been marching between Fort Brooke and Fort King – an incident known as the Dade Massacre.  After they had been defeated, the Seminoles were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi – although 300 remained in the Everglades until a Third Seminole War reduced their number to less than 100 by 1859.

When Florida became the 27th state of the USA in 1845, approximately half of its population were slaves working on cotton and sugar plantations.  Along with the other Southern states, Florida seceded from the Union after Abraham Lincoln had been elected President, and helped found the Confederacy in 1861.  As it was an important supply route for the Confederate Army, the Union sought to blockade the entire state and take control of major ports there.  The biggest skirmish fought in Florida during the Civil War was the 1864 Battle of Olustee that took place in Baker County and resulted in approximately a third of the Union troops being killed, wounded or lost.  After the war had ended – and following a period of Reconstruction – Florida was readmitted to the Union in 1868, although as with other southern states, race relations did not improve significantly until the Civil Rights Movement, with African-Americans being subjected to lynchings, segregation through Jim Crow Laws, and disenfranchisement.

Florida has the fourth largest economy of the 50 states and it is centered around agriculture, in particular the production of citrus, cotton and sugar; tourism, with the theme parks around Orlando – including Disney World, Epcot and Universal Studios – being some of the most popular in the world; banking and defense.  There is also a large aerospace industry there and the Kennedy Space Center, in between Miami and Jacksonville, was the site of the launches for all six of the Apollo missions that landed on the moon, as well as the infamous number 13 that resulted in the crew having to use the Lunar Module as a life boat back to Earth.

Florida is the 22nd biggest state in area, is the furthest south in the continental USA (although Hawaii is further south) and, with more than 19 million residents, it ranks 4th in population.  There are nine “Big Four” sports teams in the state: the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL); Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays (MLB); Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL); plus the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat (NBA); while it also hosts half of the Major League Baseball clubs for Spring Training and the Daytona 500 NASCAR race each February.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 29

2008 Result: Obama 50.9% McCain 48.4%

Latest Poll: Romney +3%

With any mention of a Presidential election in Florida, it is impossible not to first think about the 2000 race between George Bush and Al Gore, with the former being adjudged to have won the state after a lengthy legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the final certified tally being 2,912,790 votes to Bush and 2,912,253 to Gore.  It is a swing state again in this election, although should President Obama prevail there – as he did in 2008 – then he will be all but certain to win a second-term.  Currently, Governor Romney appears favourite to win Florida for the Republican Party, which would take their tally to 9 victories in the last 12 President elections.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in Florida this November, with incumbent Bill Nelson (D), who is seeking a third-term in office, currently leading in the polls against the GOP candidate, Connie Mack.

As a result of redistricting following the 2010 census, Florida will have two extra seats in the House of Representatives – taking its total to 27 – starting in January 2013.  Of the current delegation, 19 are Republicans and 6 Democrats, with this year’s races being the most likely to affect which party will have control of the House in the new Congress.  The GOP are expected to win close contests in the 10th, 13th and 16th districts, the Democrats are ahead in the 9th and 22nd, while the Republican incumbents in the 18th and 22nd are  considered most likely to be unseated this November.

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