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Florida Newspaper Editor Describes 'Bizarre' GOP Primary Race


You can't talk about a presidential election without eventually bringing up Florida. The swing state has a large and diverse population - 20 million people, and nearly 1 in 5 is foreign-born. And in this unusual race, Florida is seen as the last chance for Republican Senator Marco Rubio. It's his home state, and the primary there is coming up on the 15th. All of this is keeping Adam Smith very busy. He's political editor at The Tampa Bay Times, and that's where we reached him today. Hello there.

ADAM SMITH: Hi there.

MCEVERS: So you've been the political editor there for 15 years. How would you describe this Republican race in Florida in, let's say, three words?

SMITH: Bizarre, bizarre and bizarre come to mind.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) OK, yeah. Tell me about that.

SMITH: I think most pundits, et cetera, across the country and certainly most people in Florida thought this was Jeb Bush's nomination to lose. Jeb Bush really is a giant in Florida politics, and he was a zero in the presidential race. So that's the biggest surprise off the bat and then, obviously, Donald Trump - who would've thunk?

MCEVERS: One of our member station reporters at WMFE in Orlando actually sent us some tape, went out and talked to some Republican voters. She asked them this morning which candidate they're supporting and why. So let's take a listen to that for a second.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: My heart knows that Trump is true and that he loves America and he wants the same things that I want for my kids and for the future and for our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: My choice - there's only one choice. It's Donald.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I mean, it's going to take a financial person that understands the working of everything from Wall Street to McDonald's to help this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Donald Trump is kind of different. He's not part of the establishment.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Rubio's more viable candidate, I think, so probably Rubio.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I honestly could tell you that - I mean, I voted Republican my whole life, and I'm very disappointed with what we have out there right now. I don't think it really represents the true Republican Party.

MCEVERS: We heard from Eddie Diaz, Amanda Patrick, John Carvalho, Connie and Bruce Pantke and Colleen Rosaler - and among those, just one Rubio supporter, Adam Smith. I mean, he doesn't have the I'm-from-Florida edge. Does that match with what you're hearing and seeing in the polls in Florida?

SMITH: Yeah. We are incredibly disloyal here in Florida, it seems.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

SMITH: I mean, Jeb Bush was very well behind in the polls. He was in single digits at one time. And depending on the - what poll you're looking at, Marco Rubio is trailing Donald Trump by 7 to 20 points. So it looks pretty grim for him at this stage.

MCEVERS: What about Ted Cruz? We didn't hear anyone mention that name in this, you know, unofficial poll of about 10 people. How's he doing in Florida?

SMITH: You know, Florida is so big that unless you really are campaigning - and keep in mind that we are 10 media markets. My media market, Tampa Bay, is really the equivalent of the entire state of Arizona or the entire state of Colorado.


SMITH: So just getting yourself known is very difficult. So Ted Cruz has sort of written off this state.

MCEVERS: And there's so much talk about what the Republican establishment can do to stop Donald Trump. Are you seeing that in conversations playing out in Florida or in TV ads or anywhere else?

SMITH: We are certainly seeing it in TV ads. You turn your TV on - very suddenly in the last couple days - and it's a ton of anti-Trump ads. And really, it may be too late, but this is the first state where it's sort of all the guns are blazing in full force against Donald Trump. So maybe we'll see whether that ultimately can make a difference.

MCEVERS: How's Trump playing with Hispanic voters?

SMITH: Hard to say. We haven't had any good polls on that, but I do know that Miami-Dade is overwhelmingly Cuban-American. Those are Republican Hispanic voters for the most part. And the Trump people expect they will lose Miami-Dade, and the Marco Rubio people are hoping that Miami-Dade is what really saves his bacon.

MCEVERS: And what issues are resonating in Florida this election? I mean, what do people there care about?

SMITH: It's the same as everywhere.


SMITH: I mean, part of what makes Florida such a battleground state is that it is such an uncanny microcosm for the rest of the country. So I think the frustration and people fed up with nothing getting done in Washington, et cetera, plays in Florida just as it does everywhere.

MCEVERS: You know, we talked about, sort of, you know, the fact that the Florida primary's coming up, but explain why Florida is so important.

SMITH: Well, for one reason, we're now at the stage where more and more states - and it starts with Florida - are winner-take-all. So this is a mother lode of delegates - 99 delegates at stake. That's the big boost, and really, it's so expensive - about $2 million a week to advertise statewide - that it's not worth trying to get second or third place.

MCEVERS: That's Adam Smith. He's political editor at The Tampa Bay Times. Thanks so much.

SMITH: Sure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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