While I was at Brian Moran's holiday party, I ran into an old friend I've known since my Florida Young Democrats days. We were discussing the presidential primaries and both of us agreed there's a story the national press may well be missing.
The current conventional wisdom is that Rudy Guiliani will do very well in the Republican primary in the Sunshine State because so many New Yorkers have relocated there, either in search of job opportunities or to retire. Giuliani, himself, is banking on a strong showing in Florida to offset expected losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But there's a big flaw in that strategy. And an equally big fallacy in the conventional wisdom that is fueling it.
What many of the pundits and strategists are missing is that the New Yorkers who have settled in South Florida - largely in Broward and Palm Beach counties - are mostly registered Democrats. And they are as staunch a group of liberals as you'll find. In other words, they are not just Democrats, they are New York liberals. This is especially true of the large retiree population there. Many of them are activists who came out of the depression era and were formed by FDR's New Deal.
Florida also is not an open primary state as Virginia is. That means that even if they were so inclined, those New Yorkers Rudy is banking on can't cross party lines to vote for a fellow New Yorker. For the reason I mentioned above, I personally doubt that many of them have that inclination anyway, but they wouldn't have the legal ability to do so if they wanted to.
The beneficiary of Florida's GOP demographics could be, believe it or not, Mike Huckabee.
The GOP's strength is mostly in North Florida and the Panhandle. Both of those regions have more in common with other Southern states than with South Florida and its large population of New Yorkers.
The largest city in Northeast Florida is Jacksonville. It is a large military town with three naval bases. It also attracts a lot of former military retirees. Those who come there for jobs mostly hail from rural south Georgia. The same demographic is true for the retirement population in Jacksonville. It's composed of natives of Jacksonville and south Georgia.
If the South is heart of the Bible Belt, North Florida is its eastern buckle. For years the Jacksonville First Baptist Church was THE major arbiter in local politics for both Democrats and Republicans.
Then there's the Panhandle, which is famous throughout the South as "the Redneck Riviera" because it plays host to vacationers from Alabama and Mississippi. Those folks love the sun and surf and casual atmosphere of a beach setting as much as vactioners anywhere, but Key West or South Beach wouldn't be their leisure destination. They come to the beaches of Panama City because culturally and socially they feel at home there among fellow conservative Southerners.
The only wild card for the GOP primary would be Miami with its staunchly Republican Cuban American population. Cuban Americans will be facing a real dilemna in this election cycle. They remain vehemently anti-Castro and pro-Republican. But the issue of immigration is very important in the Cuban exile community. So, I'm not sure how the Republicans' harsh anti-illegal immigration stance plays out here.
In any case, I believe the the Cubans in Miami will be outnumbered by the values voters up North and along the Florida West Coast.
There are many things that could stop a Huckabee surge, with its roots in the Iowa caucuses. The main stumbling block for him right now is his lack of foreign policy experience and his gaffes following the Bhutto assassination. The growing crisis in Pakistan has put national security and foreign policy back on the front burner for most voters.
But if values voters, who are growing tired of unkept promises, have their say and vote for one of their own, Huckabee could come out of Florida's Republican primary with a strong showing. That more than any other defeat would derail Giuliani's campaign since he's putting so many of his eggs in that basket.
I think the basket will have its bottom fall out and the eggs will break. There simply aren't enough New Yorkers in South Florida who vote in GOP primaries to put that Humpty Dumpty back together again.