In the run-up to today's election, there's been an avalanche of polls, a whole lot of spin and a lot of competing predictions about who will win Florida.
Complaints from conservatives have been that the polls have undersampled Republicans and attributed higher turnout to Democrats than will materialize. Democrats, meanwhile, have also questioned the polling models in different ways, including whether there has been an undersample of young people.
Lost in this back-and-forth is a recognition that the election of 2008 isn't quite what it is made out to be here in Florida.
The dominant thinking is that Barack Obama motivated minority voters and young people and created a surge of turnout in 2008.
McCain got 4.04 million votes when he lost the state while Bush received 3.96 million.
The counter-argument, of course, well there was population growth and more voters so it makes sense McCain got more votes.
But there was actually a higher percentage turnout in several counties that McCain won.
Take Brevard County which runs down the east Coast and is home to Cape Canaveral.
Turnout four years ago in this Republican-dominated county was actually 82.5 percent compared to nearly 79 percent in 2004. Turnout was higher in other red counties such as Clay, Lake, Lee, Pasco, Polk, Santa Rosa, Seminole, and St. John's.
Of course despite this McCain won 53 out of Florida's 67 counties. President Bush, by contrast, won 57 out of 67 counties during the 2004 elections.
The question that needs to be asked is whether or not the ongoing changes in demographic makeup in Florida _ and which continued over the last four years _ have scrambled up the traditional thinking about this state.
For example, there are now 1.66 million Hispanic voters compared to 1.35 million just four years ago. Back in 2008 the number of black registered voters actually outnumbered Hispanics. The total number of black voters grew as well from 1.46 million to 1.62 million.
The end result? Even though the number of white registered voters increased overall their percentage of the electorate actually shrank. So four years ago when Obama won the state whites made up 69.1 percent of the electorate. That number has dropped to 66.5 percent.
Certainly the makeup of the Hispanic vote is not like it is in other states _ and Florida's Cuban-Americans have been reliable Republican voters. Another argument has been that Central Florida Hispanics _ many of whom are Puerto Rican _ don't care as much about GOP nominee Mitt Romney's hard line against immigration as other Hispanics.
But let's look at what happened in several key counties back in the last two cycles. These are the counties that will make or break the state for President Obama or former Gov. Romney.
MIAMI-DADE: This is the one that really jumps out. Turnout was actually HIGHER in 2004 when President Bush was on the ballot. Despite the lower turnout McCain nearly got as many votes - 360,000 - that Bush did. So McCain nearly duplicated what the Spanish-speaking brother of the governor of Florida did in 2004. Of course, what happened is that the number of voters in Miami-Dade grew between 2004 and 2008. President Obama got 90,000 more votes than John Kerry did. That's nearly half of the 236,000 vote margin that propelled Obama to win the state. Even if you go with the Republican talking point that Obama's turnout machine will not replicate what happened previously there's a case to be made that Romney will likely have to do better than the past two GOP nominees in this pivotal county in order to hold down Obama's margin.
(UPDATE: Romney got less votes in Miami-Dade than McCain did in 2008, while Obama took in roughly 42,000 more votes than he did the first time around. And this all happened even though turnout was slightly lower than it was in 2008.)
HILLSBOROUGH: Behind Miami-Dade this is probably the second-most important county to watch on election night. Hillsborough had been trending Republican in recent years, yet four years ago Obama took this county. He got nearly 59,000 votes more than Kerry did despite LOWER TURNOUT than in 2004. Additionally, McCain took in only 236,000 votes compared to 245,000 votes for President Bush. If Obama wins Hillsborough then there's probably a good chance he will take the state.
(UPDATE: Obama did win Hillsborough, and therefore he won the state. Again Obama took in more votes in this county during his re-election bid than he did the first time around. While Romney got a higher vote total than McCain did or President Bush did - he still finished 36,000 votes behind Obama, which was roughly the same number as McCain.)
DUVAL: This county will be in the Romney column. No one doubts that. It's just a matter of how big a lead that Romney racks up here. In 2004 Bush won Duval with nearly 58 percent of the vote. McCain, however, won Duval by a slim margin of 50.6 percent.This is the county that Romney needs to do well in order to offset the margins in South Florida.
(UPDATE: President Obama did lose ground here, finishing with 47.8 percent of the vote in Duval, a decline both in percentage and raw totals from 2008. Yet despite that fact Romney only pulled in 1,000 more votes than McCain did. So in other words, Romney did not get the type of advantage he needed in Duval to offset votes elsewhere.)
ORANGE: This was another county that went big for Obama in 2008. He got roughly 80,000 more votes than John Kerry did four years earlier. But the cut in early voting days _ which as we have seen is favored by Democrats _ did have an impact in this county. Not counting the provisional ballots that were cast on Sunday _ the total number of voters who voted early in Orange dropped from just over 145,000 in 2008 to a little more than 127,000 this year according to Bill Cowles, the elections supervisor there. The county had these lower early voting numbers even though the number of registered voters in Orange has jumped up 14 percent. This would seem to suggest that Obama will not repeat the same margin he got previously.
(UPDATE: In the end the voter turnout in Orange County did dip from 2008. But it made little difference in the raw totals. Obama received about the same number of votes in 2012 as he did the first time around. Romney took in only about 2,000 more votes than the president.)
PINELLAS: This county is worth keeping an eye on as a potential trendsetter. Obama won Pinellas four years ago, while Bush won the county in 2004.But this county actually has FEWER active registered voters than it did in 2008. The voter registration gap between Democrats and Republicans is also smaller than it was previously.
(UPDATE: There was a significant decline in Pinellas. President Obama took in 9,000 fewer votes than he did in 2008. But Romney only picked up about 3,000 more votes than McCain did.)
OSCEOLA: There's a reason that former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Romney campaign made a stop in Kissimmee this past Saturday. This county in Central Florida could be the one to really watch on election night. Four years ago President Obama won the county and received nearly 60,000 votes to slightly more than 40,000 votes. That was a dramatic turnaround from 2004 when President Bush won the county with 43,000 votes. The stakes are even higher this year. Voter registration in this county has grown from just under 137,000 in 2008 to more than 163,000 this time out. The number of registered Democrats in this county grew from just under 60,000 to more than 71,000 while GOP registration went up from 40,96 to 43,588. In other words, this county may be the one that proves or disproves the Obama campaign's much hyped ground game.
(UPDATE: And the shift played out as expected. Obama's lead in Osceola was substantially bigger in 2012 than it was in 2008. His vote total went from just under 60,000 to more than 67,000, while Romney's vote total was nearly identical to McCain.)