Matt Towery
Here's a news flash for every Republican candidate who wants to replace Barack Obama in the 2012 election cycle -- it's Florida, stupid.

Candidates can spend all the time they want in Iowa. They can visit every household and sip a cup at every coffee shop, and it likely will get them what it got Mike Huckabee in Iowa four years ago -- an unimportant victory.

The same goes for New Hampshire. That state is the size of a postage stamp in electoral politics. (It's also quite lovely, and I'd rather live there than in most states. But politics is politics.)

Then there's South Carolina. At least it's a more populous state than Iowa or New Hampshire. But South Carolina appears to be ready to abdicate its role as the heavily influential second primary in the election cycle. That's because Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, acting boldly and determinedly, has refused to put into the state budget the several million dollars necessary for the state to conduct a presidential primary. South Carolina now may be running the risk of having to settle for a presidential caucus -- that would be far less influential than a primary.

What looms over the horizon is Florida. It's a big primary in scale, and probably an even bigger one for importance. Many years ago, pollsters viewed California as a microcosm of America. But decades later, Florida has become the litmus-test state. Had the Democratic National Committee in 2008 not punished the Sunshine State for moving up its primary to ahead of what the DNC considered an acceptable date, Obama likely wouldn't be president today. Hillary Clinton annihilated him in the Florida contest, but the DNC effectively invalidated the results.

But this time around, Florida appears willing to keep its more traditional primary date, despite legislation that would allow it to again leapfrog in front of other states and caucuses.

Why shouldn't it bump up its primary? After the candidates finish attending fairs and flipping pancakes in states previous to Florida, nothing will have been decided anyway. Moreover, Florida features significant patches of just about every major demographic in America. It also contains a whole lot of voters, and they likely will determine who will stay in the race following the Florida vote, and ultimately who will get the GOP nomination.

For proof of Florida's importance, take note of Obama's recent visit to Miami and Puerto Rico. No sitting president in the last 50 years has visited the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. But Obama is smart. He knows that Central Florida is home to a large number of Puerto Ricans who tend to vote Democratic.

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