Here are five things to know about the state’s primary on Tuesday:
1) The state known for picking presidents is about to play a big role in picking each party’s nominee
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are expected to score resounding victories in Florida, cementing their grips on their respective party crowns. Clinton is up 30 points over Sen. Bernie Sanders in most polls, and Trump leads home-state senator Marco Rubio by 6-23 points.
An avalanche of anti-Trump ads financed by super PACs probably comes too late to help Rubio, whose spotty Senate attendance record probably hasn’t endeared him to Sunshine State Republicans.
A Trump victory in Florida would give him all of Florida’s 99 delegates and would almost certainly prompt Rubio to bow out. If Rubio somehow wins Florida, he’ll keep campaigning — even at third place in the delegate race — because he’ll be able to say he captured the nation’s most important swing state.
On the Democratic side, Florida has 246 delegates to dole out proportionally. Given Clinton’s lead in the polls, she’s certain to win the state, which would make her nomination virtually inevitable. But Sanders has the money and passion to keep going beyond Tuesday, which he’s vowed to do, no matter what happens in Florida.
2) Clinton enjoys a few key advantages, including strong backing from women
Two separate Quinnipiac University polls in the past three weeks show the former secretary of state leading Sanders 69-24 percent among women.
“The challenge for Sanders is that what you’re going to have in Florida is Democratic primary voters, a heavier proportion of whom are women, (especially) older women who are definitely pro-Hillary,” said Susan MacManus, political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Clinton also benefits from the popularity of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in Florida.
Another hurdle for Sanders is that many young Florida voters failed to change their registration from independent to Democrat before the deadline. That means they can’t vote in Florida’s closed primary for Sanders, who depends heavily on young voters.
Sanders can always hope that the polls are simply wrong. Surveys in Michigan showed Clinton up by as much as 25 points before Sanders eked out a 1.5-point victory in the state’s primary on Tuesday.
3) Hispanics have a chance to support one of their own on the Republican side — but aren’t expected to
The other Cuban-American running for the GOP nomination besides Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has won seven states so far. And Cruz is running hard in Florida.
But the state’s Hispanic population isn’t monolithic and likely won’t coalesce around either candidate.
Most Cubans — 57 percent — back Rubio, compared with 13 percent for Trump and 12 percent for Cruz, according to a recent University of North Florida statewide poll of likely Republican primary voters.
But while Cubans represent the single largest bloc of Hispanics in Florida (1.4 million), most Hispanics in the state are a mix of other ethnicities, led by Puerto Ricans.
Among non-Cuban Republicans, the poll found support is much more fractured among the GOP candidates, with 33.5 percent favoring Rubio, 30.7 percent supporting Trump, 11.5 percent behind Cruz and 10 percent backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
4) Most votes in Florida will be cast before Tuesday
As of Friday, more than 1.6 million Floridians had either mailed in an absentee ballot or picked a candidate at one of the numerous early voting sites around the state. Roughly 940,000 voted Republican and about 700,000 voted Democratic, state election records show.
Absentee ballots could hurt Rubio’s chances of winning for two reasons. Many were mailed in before the recent anti-Trump ad campaign took hold, and before Bush withdrew from the race Feb. 20 (his name still appears on the ballot). Rubio would have had a good shot at getting those votes.
A Monmouth University poll released March 7 found Rubio leading Trump 48-23 percent among Floridians who have already voted. In the unlikely event that Rubio upsets Trump on Tuesday, that advantage among early voters could be the key to why.
On the Democratic side, the same poll showed that Clinton voters are twice as likely to have already mailed in their ballots.
5) Tuesday’s primary could have dire consequences for Rubio’s political career
It’s highly unlikely Rubio will stay in the race if he loses Florida. He’s said himself that whoever wins there will be the GOP nominee.
If Rubio loses his home state, his political career could be over. But he still would have several options, none particularly inviting:
•He could seek re-election to the Senate this year. Rubio has until June 24 to qualify for the ballot, but a poor showing Tuesday could be a sign voters have soured on him. It’s also not certain he would even want to keep his Senate job, given the large number of votes he missed and his public expressions of frustration with the job.
•He could run for Florida governor in 2018, when the seat is open. Serving as governor could help him launch another presidential run in the future. Rubio, a former state House speaker, probably would face state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the gubernatorial race, with Putnam entering as the favorite.
•He could challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018. But Rubio might have to fend off Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who would be prepared to spend millions of his own fortune to win the job. And again, there’s the question of whether Rubio even wants to serve in the Senate.
•He could hold out hope that this year’s GOP presidential nominee chooses him for a running mate given Florida’s status as the nation’s most important swing state and Rubio’s own appeal as a young, dynamic Hispanic. But losing his home-state primary wouldn’t make that scenario likely. And does anyone really think Rubio would be a good fit with Trump or Cruz, the two most likely to win the nomination?
Email Ledyard King at email@example.com. Twitter: @ledgeking