The Florida Primary is a biggie. As the first large state to cast its ballots this year in the Republican presidential race, Florida is big get in terms of both delegates and momentum.
There are 50 delegates up for grabs in Tuesday's winner-take-all primary, double the amount awarded in any other state thus far. And with the three previous contests split between Santorum, Romney and Gingrich, Florida will likely be the first state to deliver the second win to a GOP candidate this cycle, lighting a momentum fire under the Sunshine state's winner.
Mitt Romney has a double-digit lead in Florida, topping Newt Gingrich by 14 points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Sunday. Romney and his supporting super PAC have dumped more than $8 million into the Sunshine State, primarily on negative ads attacking Gingrich.
And Florida is rarely wrong in choosing the eventual GOP nominee. The winner in the Sunshine State has gone on to capture the Republican nomination in each of the past five contested GOP presidential races.
Since 1980, only one Florida primary winner has lost their party's nomination. Here's a look back at the winners and losers of the Florida primary:
|2008: John McCain and Hillary Clinton|
The 2008 Florida primary was one of the closest in years, with Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani all vying for the top spot. Giuliani had staked his campaign on Florida, virtually skipping the contests in South Carolina and New Hampshire.
McCain, who rode into Florida with wins in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, came out on top by about 100,000 votes, beating Romney 36 percent to 31 percent. McCain went on to win the GOP nomination, but lost the general election to national newcomer Barack Obama.
Obama did not actively campaign in Florida. In fact, all of the major Democratic candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida after the Democratic National Committee stripped the state of its delegates as punishment for holding its primary in January, a violation of DNC rules. Hillary Clinton won Florida by more than 500,000 votes, capturing 50 percent of the vote compared to Obama's 33 percent.
|2004: John Kerry|
Less than two months into the 2004 Democratic primary Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry had all but locked up the nomination. Kerry rolled into Florida's March 9 primary with wins in Iowa and New Hampshire already under his belt.
Kerry triumphed over John Edwards, who had snagged a slim win in South Carolina, securing a whopping 77 percent of the vote. Edwards soon dropped out and eventually became Kerry's running mate. Kerry fell to Republican incumbent president George W. Bush in the general election.
|2000: George W. Bush and Al Gore|
"Hanging chads" made Florida infamous in the general election, but the 2000 primary was much less controversial. Republican frontrunner George W. Bush stomped challenger John McCain in the GOP primary, snagging 74 percent of the vote compared to McCain's 20 percent.
Democrat Al Gore secured an even larger victory, capturing a full 82 percent of the vote in the 2000 Florida primary. Gore is the only candidate since 1980 to win in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
Gore fell to Bush in the hotly contested, still controversial general election, which was so close the Supreme Court had to ultimately decide the winner.
|1996: Bob Dole|
After winning in both South Carolina and Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole took command of the Florida primary in 1996, beating Steve Forbes by 36 percentage points. Florida's primary was on March 12 and 22 other states had already cast ballots before voters there went to the polls.
In his third bid for the White House, Dole lost only six states during the GOP primary cycle, but he fell to incumbent President Bill Clinton in the general election.
|1992: Bill Clinton|
Bill Clinton entered the 1992 Democratic primary as a virtually unknown national candidate, but after a surprising second-place finish in New Hampshire, Clinton rode his momentum into a sweeping victory on Super Tuesday, when eight states, including Florida, cast their ballots. Clinton trumped rival Paul Tsongas by 16 percentage points in the Sunshine state.
Clinton went on to capture the Democratic nomination and defeat incumbent president George H.W. Bush in the general election.
|1988: George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis|
In his second White House bid, George Bush Sr. was unmatched in both fundraising and organization. While he was dealt a surprising defeat in the Iowa caucus, Bush fought back to the top and won in New Hampshire and South Carolina. By Florida's primary on March 8, Bush's momentum was virtually unstoppable. He blew away rival Bob dole by nearly 40 percentage points in the Florida GOP primary.
Bush, who served as Ronald Reagan's vice president, vowed to continue Reagan's policies and rode the Reagan-backed tidal wave all the way back to the White House, beating Democrat Michael Dukakis in the general election.
The Democratic primary was a long, drawn-out affair. Dukakis won Florida with 41 percent of the vote and eventually beat out Jessie Jackson, Al Gore and Dick Gephardt to secure the nomination.
|1984: Gary Hart|
The 1984 Florida primary was the only time in the past 30 years when the state's votes counted that the Florida winner did not go on the win their party's nomination. The contest was decided by less than 60,000 votes with Walter Mondale and Gary Hart battling for the top spot.
Hart snagged a narrow victory with 39 percent of the votes to Mondale's 33 percent, but eventually lost the nomination to Mondale in a close primary race.
Mondale, in turn, lost the general election to the widely popular incumbent Republican president Ronald Reagan.
|1980: Ronald Reagan|
Reagan was riding high on a three-state winning streak going into the March 11 Florida primary in 1980. The former California governor beat George Bush Sr. by 26 percentage points. Following his win in Florida, Reagan won every subsequent contest except two: Michigan and the District of Colombia.
Reagan handily beat the unpopular incumbent president Jimmy Carter in the general election.