Get to Know a Battleground: Florida

Winning Florida is essential for Mitt Romney. Without its 29 Electoral College votes -- Florida is the largest Electoral College prize of any swing state -- Romney would have to win nearly every other battleground. If Obama wins only Florida, New Hampshire and Nevada (along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, where he is expected to win) the president will be re-elected. Despite Obama's solid win in Florida in 2008, Republicans may have an advantage in the Sunshine State, which hasn't had a Democratic governor since 1999.

The bad economy and the housing bust hit Florida hard. In September, Florida ranked first among state foreclosure rates with one in every 318 households, and second in total foreclosures with 28,235. The state's unemployment rate has dropped from its peak in 2009, but it remains above the national average.

Florida has made headlines with three recent disputes over voting rights: a law passed by the GOP legislature that would have required voter-registration groups to submit registration forms within 48 hours of collecting them (a federal court blocked this provision in May); a change to early voting that eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day; and a purge of non-citizens from voter rolls (using a federal database), which is ongoing despite a lawsuit by civil-rights groups. Over the weekend, Democrats filed a lawsuit against the state to extend early voting after long lines were reported in South Florida.

Florida ranked 6th in Hispanic population by percent, according to the 2010 Census. In 2008, exit polls showed Hispanic voters breaking 57 percent for Obama and 42 percent for John McCain. In 2012, both candidates have aired a string of Spanish-language TV ads in Florida focusing on education and the economy.

Through Saturday, 4.4 million Floridians had already voted, either early in person or absentee by mail. Registered Democrats enjoyed an advantage of about 159,000 in early-absentee turnout.

Florida Facts:

CURRENT UNEMPLOYMENT RATE: 8.7 percent, as of September

TREND SINCE OBAMA TOOK OFFICE: Unemployment is now what it was in January 2009 (8.7 percent), and it peaked at 11.4 percent in January and February 2010, but it has decreased dramatically since then. In Sept. 2010, a year before the latest state report before Election Day, the rate was 10.4 percent.

MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME 2011: $44,299 2008: $49,765

PARTY REGISTRATION Democrats: 4,715,684 Republicans: 4,214,241 No Party: 2,516,757

POPULATION: 19,057,542, according to the Census Bureau's 2011 estimate

POPULATION BY RACE White: 78.5 percent Black: 16.5 percent Asian: 2.6 percent Hispanic: 57.5 percent

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