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4 The I-4 Corridor The Sunshine State’s Premier Battleground Susan A. MacManus, David J. Bonanza, and Anthony A. Cilluffo [Hillary] Clinton and Donald Trump both know that the 132-mile, trafficslammed slab of asphalt that stretches across the center of the Florida peninsula is in many ways the road to the White House. Craig Pittman Politico, September 6, 2016 Ultimately, what makes the I-4 corridor such impeccable territory for picking presidents is that it is America: Midwestern, Northeastern, Southern . Country, city, suburban. Black, White, Hispanic. Native, transplant, agricultural, high-tech, young, old, mostly middle class. Adam Smith, Tampa Bay Times, November 4, 2016 So, where did he [Trump] beat her [Clinton]? Simple: I-4, and more specifically , the 15 counties that make up suburban and exurban I-4. Steve Schale, Obama-Biden Florida campaign director, 2008, November 14, 2016 What Is the I-4 Corridor andWhy Is It Critical toVictory? The famed I-4 corridor runs across Central Florida from the Tampa– St. Petersburg–Sarasota media market on the state’s west coast eastward to the Orlando–Daytona Beach–Melbourne media market. “The 132.3-mile rural, urban, and suburban stretch extending from the Gulf to the Atlantic is neither reliably Republican red nor Democrat blue, but swing-voter purple” (Smith 2016). The area’s national reputation for being the “swing The I-4 Corridor: The Sunshine State’s Premier Battleground · 77 part of the nation’s premier swing state” tracks back to the infamous 2000 presidential election. This chapter examines the registration, election results, and turnout patterns of voters in the I-4 corridor in both the March presidential preference primary and the November general election. It also identifies the key constituencies targeted by both major party candidates, briefly discusses their grassroots organization and ground game (GOTV), and analyzes the candidates’ visits to and television ads played in the two critical media markets. AWidely Reported and Glowing Preelection Reputation Heading into the 2016 election, the political “highway to heaven” was the focus of massive media attention—nationally and internationally. Descriptions of this coveted piece of geography included: “the ultimate political barometer” (Smith 2016b) “America’s most fought-over battleground” (Smith 2016b) “America’s Corridor of power” (Smith 2016b) “bellwether of the nation’s largest swing state” (Schneider 2016) “state’s primary battleground” (Schneider 2016) “crucial swing section of this swing state” (Gómez 2016) “a tipping point” (Markowski 2015) “the big enchilada” (Pittman 2016) “a microcosm of Florida, and of America” (Pittman 2016) “the hinge of a crucial swing state” (Pittman 2016) “state’s most important swing region” (Allen 2016) “the most targeted battleground in the nation” (Smith and O’Donnell 2016) “the politically crucial I-4 Corridor” (Sussingham 2016) The Corridor’s“Must-Win”Status In 2016 the two media markets in the I-4 corridor contained 45 percent of the state’s registered voters (Tampa—24 percent; Orlando—21 percent) (see Figure 4.1). From a partisan perspective, 36 percent of the corridor’s registrants were Democrats, 36 percent Republicans, 25 percent No Party Affiliation (NPA), and 3 percent minor parties. Of the state’s ten media Figure 4.1. Florida voter registration by media market, November 2016. Forty-five percent of all the state’s registered voters resided in I-4 corridor media markets. Source: Calculated by authors from Florida Division of Elections data. Figure 4.2. The I-4 corridor: Florida’s most politically competitive geography. Registration by party affiliation by media market, general election 2016 book closing. May not add to 100 percent due to rounding. Source: Calculated by authors from Florida Division of Elections data. 3% 2% 2% 24% 21% 4% 6% 8% 10% 20% The I-4 Corridor: The Sunshine State’s Premier Battleground · 79 markets, the two I-4 corridor markets were the most evenly divided politically (see Figure 4.2). Predictably, throughout the long, grueling campaign, voters in these two vital markets were frequent targets of candidate visits and TV ads. The timing, audience, message, and location of each visit were carefully calibrated, as were registration and get out the vote (GOTV) efforts—all in recognition of the corridor’s “must-win” status. At election’s end, the I-4 corridor’s reputation for being highly competitive and crucial to a candidate’s success remained intact in 2016. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the I-4 corridor’s suburban and rural counties was the key to his narrow 1 percent victory over Hillary Clinton. Support...


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