Matt Towery

If so, the Edwards camp could argue that no Democrat can possibly hope to defeat President Bush if that candidate is unable to carry the Sunshine State's Democratic core. Why? Because a tight general election would again make Florida the potential swing state among the nation's biggest electoral prizes. Ralph Nader's decision to run as a third-party candidate only increases the chances of this being the case. Because New York and California are probably givens for the Democratic nominee, and Texas equally solid for Bush, Florida again will likely be the critical crown jewel in the presidential sweepstakes.

As a way to come from behind and win the Democratic nomination, this "Florida strategy" is a long shot for Edwards. Kerry has weathered recent political storms and clearly assumed the mantle of "nominee-in-waiting." But politics in recent years has taken many a wild turn. And while the national press generally has trouble accepting or even comprehending the viability of Deep South candidates for president, Edwards' clean record and fresh look seems to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.

The last InsiderAdvantage poll of the race in Florida, conducted before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, showed neither Kerry nor Edwards with significant support. Things have obviously changed. But what remains significant from that survey was the indication that self-proclaimed independents that vote in Democratic primaries likely would gravitate toward candidates viewed as moderates. For them, Edwards might fit the bill.

If nothing else, a strong Edwards showing in the upcoming Southern primaries would likely create an unstoppable movement to see the senator become Kerry's vice-presidential running mate. After all, it's inconceivable that the Democrats can win the White House without carrying both Florida and at least one other large Southern state. While some pundits have written off the South to the GOP, those who know it well recognize that its legion of voters who consider themselves independent have and will again shuttle back and forth between the two major parties.

The good news for Bush is that these are the same voters in 2000 that either supported him or drifted in the other direction to vote for Nader. And in 2002, independents in Florida voted in significant numbers to re-elect the president's brother, Jeb, as governor.

There is little doubt this independent bloc will again decide the course our nation takes in November. The key deciding point will almost certainly be the state of the economy -- not as it is now, but on Election Day. For now, that gives hope to Edwards' candidacy, but a continually improving economy may supply the president with the margin he needs for victory.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery