Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012 | 2 a.m.
If Florida hadn’t muscled its way into Nevada’s early presidential primary spot, the Silver State would have been the proving ground for the Republican candidates to test their messages on economic hardship.
Alas, the Sunshine State, with its stratospheric foreclosure rate and its burgeoning ranks of the unemployed, stole the spotlight.
The good news for Nevada is we can look to Florida for a glimpse of the messaging the candidates will deliver once they make it to Nevada, with its stratospheric foreclosure rate, burgeoning ranks of the unemployed and alligators … Wait, we’ve got rattlesnakes.
Here are four things for Nevadans to watch in Florida:
They’ve got a well-coifed, Hispanic Republican potential VP candidate, too?
Yes, Gov. Brian Sandoval seems to be holding on to his thick locks a bit better than U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., but both have been floated as potential running mates. And the candidates all seem to want to make sure Nevada and Florida voters know it.
In Thursday’s Florida debate, Rubio got the most and earliest shout-outs from the contenders, who were responding to a question about which of the nation’s Hispanic leaders they would consider for cabinet posts.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has spent the most time campaigning in Nevada, was quick to name Sandoval.
“We’re blessed to have an enormous number of highly qualified Hispanic-Americans in the Republican Party and leadership right now,” Romney said. “Brian Sandoval, the governor of — of Nevada.”
Of course, Florida was able to hopscotch Nevada in part because it’s more valuable, with nearly three times the delegates. (Yes, it loses half as a penalty.) Florida also brings three times the electoral votes, which could make Rubio a more attractive running mate — a job Sandoval has repeatedly said he would turn down if offered.
Hispanics are a powerful voting bloc
The Hispanic vote is anything but monolithic. Florida is home to a large population of Cuban-Americans, while Nevada is home to many Hispanics from Mexico and Central America. But many of the same issues seem to play with the Hispanic vote in both states, hence the strong emphasis on immigration this week.
The front-runners in the race — Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — have paid special attention to Hispanic media in Florida and have Spanish-language ads.
If that’s not enough, they’ve gone at each other over immigration, with Gingrich accusing Romney of being anti-immigrant and Romney dredging up an old quote from Gingrich referring to Spanish as the language of the ghettos.
Romney has generally taken a hard-line approach to immigration, where Gingrich has supported limited pathways to citizenship, saying it’s unreasonable to deport every illegal immigrant in America.
Nevada still beats Florida in unemployment
The entire campaign has been consumed with rhetoric on “jobs, jobs, jobs.” But until South Carolina and Florida, the candidates spent time campaigning in two of the states with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
So, welcome to Florida, where the unemployment rate is 9.9 percent — still not as high as Nevada’s 12.6 percent.
The candidates have continued their quest to position themselves as the best man to turn around the economy, but Gingrich took a slightly Florida-specific approach. He promised to establish a permanent U.S. colony on the moo — a play that could be popular in a state that relies heavily on space exploration for jobs.
Perhaps Gingrich can promise Nevada construction companies priority construction contracts for the moon colony’s houses as a way to revive the construction industry here, or give Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson the first lunar gaming license.
Foreclosure crisis generates campaign attacks, few proposed solutions
Florida and Nevada are usually competing for the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. (For now, it’s all Nevada’s.)
Still, Florida’s striking housing crisis has generated talk on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, not too much of it appears to be solution-oriented.
Late last week, Gingrich angrily denounced Romney in a campaign speech and again at Thursday’s debate for investing in Goldman Sachs, “which is today foreclosing on Floridians.”
Romney fired back that Gingrich owns mutual funds that invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In Nevada, Gingrich was the only candidate to favor government intervention to help mortgage holders. In Florida, he’s campaigned on repealing the Dodd-Frank Act, the Democrats’ financial industry reform law.
Romney has favored a free-market approach of letting the housing market correct itself without intervention, which has earned him scorn from Democrats in Nevada.
But he’s tried to show sympathy in Florida, according to an exchange reported by the Miami Herald in which a Floridian says he’s contemplating moving out of the country.
“It’s tragic,” Romney told him. “It’s just tragic.”