Florida, also known as the Sunshine State, votes on Tuesday in the Republican presidential primary likely to determine who will be the party's challenger in the November elections.
Here are a few facts about Florida, the fourth-largest state in the United States with a population of 19 million, and why it is a key stop in any presidential race.
What's at stake
A victory in the diverse state of Florida will be seen as proof of the winner's electability come November. At stake are 50 delegates to the Republican convention in August when the party's standard-bearer to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in November is crowned. The Republican National Committee slashed Florida's delegates to the convention in half after the state flouted the election calendar and moved up its primary. Florida is a closed primary, only for registered members of the Republican Party, and the winner takes all the delegates. A total of 1,144 delegates are needed to win the nomination.
Because of its size, Florida is one of the costliest states in the Republican battle. TV and radio advertising spots are the only sure way of ensuring blanket coverage -- but they come with a hefty price tag. Frontrunner Mitt Romney has spent some $5.6 million on media time and his supporters have spent another $8.2 million, according to ABC television. His rival Newt Gingrich, forced to be more frugal as he has less in his coffers, spent some $837,000 on advertising spots, with his supporters shelling out about $3 million.
While much of the United States has been hit by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the collapse of the housing market bubble five years ago has been particularly acute in Florida. In December alone some 25,000 homes were foreclosed on. And with unemployment standing at about 10 percent, the state is slightly above the national average jobless rate.
About 22% of the population in Florida is of Hispanic descent. About 450,000 Latinos are registered Republican voters, and therefore make up a sizeable voting bloc in the primaries. A top priority for this group is the nation's immigration policy, but Republicans have officially taken a harder line on the issue than Democrats. Republican candidates have also sought to woo Cuban-born voters by taking a firm stand on the leaders of the communist-run island.
The grey vote
Thanks to its mild climate, Florida for several decades now has been a popular retirement spot for legions of elderly. The most recent US Census said about 17.3 percent of the population is over 65. This group's main concerns center around health care policies as well as seeing off any attempts to cut back their rights under the social security system known as Medicare.
The north-south divide
The further north you go in Florida, the more southern in nature it becomes. Thus the northwestern Panhandle resembles its neighbors Alabama and Georgia, and is more conservative than the southern areas of the peninsula.