A Guide to Watching the Florida GOP Results

A few things to keep in mind as tonight’s numbers roll in:

Winner takes all. Normally, most of Florida’s 114 delegates are divided among the candidates who win each of the state’s 25 congressional districts, with the remainder allocated to the statewide winner. But this year, because the national party revoked half of Florida’s delegates, all 57 delegates go to overall winner. That means whoever wins a plurality (McCain or Romney, most likely) will take a decisive lead in the overall delegate count .

Sorry, we’re closed. This is a closed primary, which means that independents—i.e., John McCain’s base—can’t vote. Instead, he’s counting on a mix of seniors, veterans, and Latinos to push him past Mitt Romney. Romney’s army of fiscal conservatives, on the other hand, will vote in full force. So, in a sense, a McCain win is bigger than a Romney win, since it proves he can succeed even without his moderate base.

Wait for it. Florida’s panhandle operates on Central Time instead of Eastern Time, so its polls close an hour later. That’s where a group McCain calls his “natural constituency”—i.e., veterans and military retirees—resides. Since it’s a tight race between Romney and McCain, networks probably won’t be able to call it until those numbers come in.

Who won where? Florida is a sort of microcosm of the national GOP. With vets in the panhandle, Hispanics in the south, and a mix of transplanted New Yorkers and retirees and independents in the mid-state Interstate 4 Corridor , there’s something in Florida’s electorate for everyone. So prepare for extrapolation, since whatever happens in Florida will inform how people handicap Super Tuesday. Did McCain do better than expected in Tampa, an area considered Reagan country? Maybe that means Romney is also toast in California. Did Giuliani fare better than expected among Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade? Perhaps that could boost him among Latinos elsewhere. Did Huckabee suck evangelical votes away from Romney across the state? Look for a possible repeat in Georgia.

There’s a lot happening here, so stay tuned.