Salena Zito

"I am in the most important voting area, and I will be here all weekend helping getting out the message for the senator," Ridge said.

The I-4 corridor is home to two of Florida's top media markets, a critical factor for candidates.

"There are two very huge media markets, Tampa Bay and Orlando, located (here)," Ridge said. "They are the second- and third-largest media markets in the state, slightly behind south Florida.

"In a lot of ways, the campaigns are fought and won on television in Florida. It is not like New Hampshire, where candidates make their pitches in small town hall meetings. This state is just too big for that."

An increasingly influential voting bloc for the Republican Party is the Cuban community, predominantly in the Miami-Dade County area.

That was clear Friday at Versailles Restaurant in Miami, where former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, were crushed by well-wishers as he tried to order a colada, a Cuban espresso. Across the street, a Giuliani banner in Spanish hung from the side of a building.

Pedro Delgado, 65, among those at the restaurant to show support for Huckabee, was born in Cuba and came to the United States 45 years ago.

"I enlisted in the American Army, hoping that I was going to be able to fight in 1962 during the (Cuban) blockade," he said. "I wanted to fight against Castro. Sadly, that never happened."

Delgado said he has supported Republicans since the Kennedy administration, because he believes the Democratic president failed the Cuban people by not following through with promises.

"Kennedy really let us down," he said.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.