More Florida Republicans — about 370,000 — already have requested absentee ballots for the Jan. 31 primary than the number of Republicans who voted in the 2008 Iowa and New Hampshire contests combined.
The ever-growing volume of votes cast before the primary in Florida is one of the factors that make the state a very different challenge from the earliest elections, in Iowa on Jan. 3, New Hampshire on Jan. 10 and South Carolina on Jan. 21.
Candidates not only have to grapple with the sheer size and diversity of Florida, but they must prepare for a contest where half the votes or more are in well before the primary.
"Under the old model in Florida, a campaign would work toward a 72-hour program going into Election Day,'' said Republican strategist Brett Doster, who is leading Mitt Romney's Florida effort.
Now, ballots come in right after the start of the new year, followed by a lull, then more absentees, then early voting, then the primary.
In theory that means a successful statewide campaign in Florida requires a formidable campaign apparatus to chase absentee ballots to bank as many votes as possible. But there's a little secret that most professional campaign operatives in Florida prefer not to acknowledge: It's not at all clear the ground game matters much in a presidential election.
Florida's GOP primary results will be driven much more by national momentum — the results in Iowa and New Hampshire and what's being broadcast on Fox News — than by campaign get-out-the-vote efforts.