" ... how much is the president to blame for the tepid economic recovery, in Florida and the nation? And is Mr. Romney a suitable alternative? The way voters in Tampa answer those questions could help determine the next president."
Hillsborough County is the definition of a bellwether region. Since 1960, its citizens have voted with the rest of the country — on all but one occasion — in choosing the next president.
When Obama became president, and though he's never been accused of having coattails, two other Democrats in tight battles also won (Kevin Beckner and the late Phyllis Busansky).
A new ingredient in the mix is the rapid growth of Latinos in Hillsborough. Census figures show that Hispanics make up 24.9 percent of the county.
Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Art Wood is aware of that statistic. He said the Republican Party needs more local party support from Latino voters.
"Honestly, we're trying to figure it out," Wood told CL from the third row of seats above the floor at an RNC event earlier this week. "Part of the reason is trying to figure out why they describe themselves as Democrats. It's almost the sense that they hear the word 'democracy,' which is why they come to America, which is why they attach themselves to the Democratic Party."
Wood almost echoed Ronald Reagan's line that Hispanics are natural Republicans who just don't know it yet.
"When I get to know Hispanics, they're really like Republicans when you scratch the surface, so I think it's somehow a way of introducing them to the party," he said. "We’ve got people trying to figure that nut out."
Often times, the word 'Hispanic' is associated with Cubans, thus Republican. But in the past decade, Florida has seen an explosion of other nationalities, such as Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, that lean more to the left.
As of now, Mitt Romney would have to win Florida to have a serious chance of taking the White House. If you analyze the electoral map, getting more than the 28 percent support from Latinos seems essential.
In terms of organization in Hillsborough, Wood said there are three offices supported by Romney and two by the county party. He'd like to have six within the next few weeks.
Wood also professed great respect for the Obama for America campaign team, saying he "watched them like a hawk." He credited its technology and database management as formidable tools he has to compete against.