Interstate 4 Corridor Drives Florida Politics; Half of State's Republicans Live in the Area

Article excerpt

Byline: Seth McLaughlin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Deborah Cox-Rousch looked on in dismay three years ago as Barack Obama turned Hillsborough County blue and then went on to capture Florida and the White House - ending her county's eight-year run as a GOP stronghold in presidential elections.

I said, 'Never again,'" Mrs. Cox-Rousch said.

Since then, she's been elected GOP county chairwoman and has been busy laying the groundwork to avoid a repeat of 2008, when Mr. Obama's 10,000-vote victory in Hillsborough County rippled across the Interstate 4 corridor and through the state, reinforcing the region's reputation as a harbinger for presidential elections.

We say in Hillsborough County, you can't win Florida unless you win the I-4 corridor and you can't win the nation if you can't win Florida, Mrs. Cox-Rousch said.

Dotted with citrus groves and scrub pine woods and populated by the retirement communities of Polk County and the burgeoning areas around Orlando, the 132-mile stretch of highway has become known as a microcosm for the entire Sunshine State.

The corridor is home to two of the state's top three media markets, Tampa and Orlando, and about half of the state's Republicans - a fact that likely will be driven home in the coming months now that the state has moved its primary date to Jan. 31, putting it fifth in the lineup on the nomination calendar and forcing GOP candidates to take note.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, summed up the I-4 corridor's electoral importance in presidential and statewide races in two short sentences.

I think its about 52 percent of the vote, he said. You need to win it.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Republican, said the region is unique in that it splices together diverse geographic, demographic and economic strands that tend to be more isolated or scattered in other pockets around the state.

South Florida tends to trend more to the left, north Florida tends to trend more to the right, and the battleground is in the I-4 corridor, Mr. Cannon said. It has sort of a great mixture of north and south, urban and rural, tourism, agriculture and high-tech. It is sort of the core of winning Florida, and I think Florida is an indispensable part of winning the White House. …