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Will The 2016 Presidential Election Boost Florida's Economy?

World Affairs Council of Philadelphia

It's likely not news to you that Miami is ground zero for two of the most watched Republicans in this cycle's presidential contest. Remember the excitement back in April when Sen. Marco Rubio officially hopped in the race at the Freedom Tower?

“Grounded by the lessons of our history, but inspired by the promise of our future, I announce my candidacy for president of the United States,” Rubio said.

And Monday we get the long-awaited announcement from former Gov. Jeb Bush at Miami Dade College in Kendall. Florida’s senior Sen. Bill Nelson is a Democrat, but he's glad those two Republicans are garnering so much attention for the state. Politics aside, he says having two candidates from the state is a win win.

“It will be good for the Republican primary and Florida. Among the Republican primary voting it will create a showdown at Okay Corral,” Nelson contends.

The benefits may not stop there. South Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo is predicting it will have a positive impact on the economy.

“Minor boost, you know, we’ll get people traveling to Florida for meetings, and the media will surely spend a lot of time there. So it’s a net gain, net positive; a little more traffic, too,” Curbelo says.

That may be the conventional wisdom, but experts see it differently. Bill Allison follows campaign spending and candidates for the Washington watchdog group The Sunlight Foundation. He's got some bad news for "conventional wisdom."

“Florida is what’s known as an ATM state. It’s a place where people go to raise money,” Allison says.

That's right. Allison says if anything, Rubio and Bush will be pulling money out of Florida to send to early voting states.

“And, you know, so I think in some ways it may be a net loss for Florida, because they’re going to be relying on those Florida donors to do well in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina well before you get to Florida,” argues Allison.

Bleak assessment, right? But there's a little good news. Allison says roughly 60 to 70 percent of campaign spending goes for ads, and then a little -- and he means a little -- gets sprinkled locally.

“And then the last thing they’ll pay money for is actual, you know, gas and renting vans and trying to get people to the polls and, you know, buses and things like that,” according to Allison.

And in this presidential primary Florida has agreed to play by the rules of the two national parties and sit in the middle of the pack. That means 21 states will have held their contests before Florida voters get to cast ballots.

Carly Urban is an economics professor at Montana State University who has studied the economics of politics. She says there's a chance Florida won't even matter this time around, or that Bush or Rubio will have packed up their Miami offices by then.

“So that’s another kind of takeaway for Florida: even though they’re in March, we’ve seen primary nominations be clinched by March. And one of the Floridian candidates might be out by then,” says Urban.

But what if Florida really does matter in the GOP primary and millions of dollars are spent on ads across the state? Even so Urban says that could lock out local businesses in key markets.

“The other thing that we found in more recent work that we’ve been looking at is with this advertising data we can see that more political ads drives up the price of advertising,” says Urban. “So then you see less advertisements from, like, your local car dealership. You see auto advertisements fall quite a bit. So that’s the biggest category but really all other advertisements are being crowded out.”

But as Rubio and Bush crisscross the U.S. they're likely to describe Florida's gorgeous beaches and national parks, right? So maybe people will book a ticket to the Sunshine State. Not gonna happen, according to political professor Ken Goldstein of the University of San Francisco.

“I see zero impact on tourism. Zero. Zero impact. Right? I mean, it’s not like hundreds of thousands of campaign workers are going to be flowing into Florida for the Florida primary,” says Goldstein.

And again, if the GOP race is really tight by the time Florida voters get to weigh in, Goldstein says it still isn't going to make local business owners rich.

“It’s not the Super Bowl, right? It’s not the Super Bowl coming to Miami which crowds out people who would have gone to Miami. You don’t have 100,000 outside fans coming in for an election,” says Goldstein.

But Goldstein says he doesn’t see any negative impact.

“Politics may crowd out some advertisers on television. Politics is not crowding out anybody hanging out in South Beach or getting a burger anywhere,” Goldstein contends.

The sad thing for Florida is this would all be different if it were, say Maryland or Oklahoma, which never really matter in presidential politics. But Goldstein says the old adage still fits: two is always better than one.

“Sure, instead of having one campaign headquarters you have two campaign headquarters so maybe you have a little bit more money and a couple more folks coming to live down in Florida during the campaign,” says Goldstein.

He says the general election is where the state will receive the most money -- even if that means an annoying amount of dirty ads on your television screens.

“No matter who the Republican nominee is, the Republican nominee has to compete in Florida. Florida’s going to get a tremendous amount of ad dollars as it got in the 2012 election, the 2008 election, the 2004 election and the 2000 election,” says Goldstein.

Then there's the state's image. On that note, some people are predicting that having two prominent Republicans representing Florida on the national stage will have a negative impact. Those predictions are coming from -- you guessed it -- Democrats. South Florida's Debbie Wasserman-Schultz runs the Democratic National Committee. She says Bush and Rubio aren't helping woo people to Florida.

“I think given the positions, given what Jeb Bush did to the state as a governor and Marco Rubio’s views, which are so dramatically out of step with how Floridians feel and what we care about, they’ve already doing and have done plenty of harm already,” according to Wasserman-Schultz.

Republicans see things quite differently. South Florida's Carlos Curbelo hasn't tossed his support behind either Floridian, but he says the two are making an imprint on the nation.

“Well we have been in the news a lot for political stories and recent... since 2000 really,” Curbelo argues. But no, I think it’s a good thing. Both Governor Bush and Senator Rubio will make our state proud."

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