Election 2008

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The Primary States: Florida

January 18, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff
Florida, the nation’s fourth biggest state—16 million residents and rising—relies on tourism, federal space programs, development, and agriculture. With a politically conservative, military-centered panhandle, and a politically mixed peninsula of Latin American immigrants, retirees, über-wealthy socialites, a political consensus is nearly impossible. A key presidential election state, Florida’s primary was recently bumped to the crucial month of January—ensuring that it will remain a state to watch.

Florida in Politics

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The contested presidential election of 2000—Florida’s vote was the disputed element—has cemented the state’s place in political history and dragged the “hanging chad” into popular lexicon.  (Internationally, the state’s role in that election and ensuing drama was widely mocked. In Nairobi, Kenya, a wild and unruly expat bar was renamed “Florida 2000.”)

Mickey’s House

In Florida’s largest metropolitan area, Tampa/St. Petersburg, the now-defunct Evening Independent’s promise was that its newspaper would be “free every day the sun don't shine.“ But the Sunshine State rarely disappoints the estimated 80 million tourists who visit annually for beaches, boating, Disney, and a near guarantee of balmy, subtropical weather.

Tourists spent a whopping $65 billion on Florida vacations in 2006. Many hit the 1,800 golf courses or 653 miles of white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. Others headed inland to the Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando, where four theme parks and countless hotels and amenities cover 25,000 acres, the largest and most-visited recreational resort in the world. Another on the biggest list is the Port of Miami, known as the “Cruise Capital of the World” and “Cargo Gateway to the Americas.” (It’s more dubious distinction is as the entry point for most of the illegal drugs to the US.)

Florida is famous for launching more than just cruise ships. Tourists stream to NASA’s immense John F. Kennedy Space Center, halfway between Miami and Jacksonville on the state’s west coast. There, if they’re lucky, visitors can watch a scheduled shuttle launch.

Smart Deco

In the early 1990s, the southern end of Miami Beach was a commercial wasteland. Art deco beauties from the 1920s—hotels, lifeguard stations, and apartment buildings—sat crumbling or dilapidated. In what is considered the greatest architectural restoration project in U.S. history, these gems on prime beach property have been spared the developers’ bulldozer. Instead, and largely thanks to the Miami Design Preservation League, nearly 800 structures have been restored to their gleaming original state. In the past decade, Miami Beach—and, most notably, South Beach—became a world-class destination, with beautiful buildings aglow in Art deco’s signature neon light. The history of Miami’s architectural boom and subsequent restoration, along with photos, can be found here.

River of Grass

In 1947, writer and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas released her book The Everglades: River of Grass, and forever changed how the world viewed the vast mangrove and sawgrass marsh that covers the southern end of the Florida peninsula. The slow-moving river, the only one of its kind on the globe, empties into Florida Bay. The Everglades and its unique species of plants, amphibians, and birds have battled attacks from development, non-native plants, and upstream farm toxins. Environmental groups campaigned successfully to save the Everglades and most of the area is now under federal protection. Though not an immediately striking landmark, the Everglades unfurls its subtle beauty to visitors who canoe and hike among the mangroves.

Keys to the Tropics

In 1912, developer Henry Flagler built a railroad along a 100-mile stretch of a 1,700-island archipelago known as the Florida Keys. The train ended in Key West, the nation’s southernmost point and a cantankerous, independent township informally known as “the Conch Republic.” (Key West was also a Yankee holdout during the Civil War.) In 1935, a hurricane devastated Flagler’s ambitious construction. Using the railway’s framework, engineers extended U.S. Highway 1 (at times a two-lane, slow-going strip) down the island chain. Driving south through the Florida Keys is akin to driving into the sea; the Gulf of Mexico to your right, the Atlantic Ocean to your left. In the lower Keys, the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the world’s longest, runs parallel to Flagler’s hurricane-struck railroad tracks.
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