Ron Paul's biggest obstacle in Florida isn't one of his GOP competitors; it's the structure of the primary itself.
Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, the Florida primary is "closed," meaning the 4,063,853 voters registered as a Republicans in Florida today will decide the race without any input from the state's more than 11 million voters registered as third-party or independent-party voters.
In Florida, there is no way to register with a party affiliation the day of the primary; voters must register 29 days before the Republican primary to vote for a GOP candidate. This means a candidate who might have made a large, late surge in another state won't be able to do so in Florida.
It's potentially devastating for Ron Paul, who earned 30 percent of the independent vote in New Hampshire, according to a Fox News exit poll.
It seems Ron Paul's ceiling of support has expanded to include independent and even liberal voters who have gravitated toward the Texas congressman's message of smaller government and less interventionist foreign policy.
"This is definitely going to hurt Ron Paul," says Daniel Smith, a professor of politcal science at the University of Florida. "It is going to limit the surge he's so well known for getting in the last few days [before a vote]."
Smith says the structure of the Republican primary in Florida is focused less on voters moved to participate in the final hours of a primary and more geared toward the consistent, socially conservative constituency within the party.
But, candidates like former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are not necessarily poised to win in Florida either.
In a state as vast as Florida, candidates must earn media coverage in 10 distinct media markets and spend millions in advertising to get elected, something GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak says is an unrealistic strategy for candidates struggling financially. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]
"It is more daunting to compete in Florida than anywhere," Mackowiak says. "Candidates have to be in more places at once, with greater strength and with greater penetration. [Former Massachusett Gov.] Mitt Romney will rule on the air. I don't see Santorum, Perry, Gingrich, or even Paul being able to do that."
So far, experts say Paul's shyed away from bombarding the airways with advertisements and stayed focused on chasing absentee voters. Florida law permits all qualified voters to request an absentee ballot and cast their votes earlier than the primary date. The state then provides all of the names and addresses of those absentee voters to campaigns and political parties so that those groups may send mailers and other targeted advertisements.
"Ron Paul has decided that he will run an under-the-radar campaign, He is chasing absentee ballots. He is sending out mailers." Smith says.
But, Mackowiak says whoever wins Florida will have to do more than that.
"A smart campaign will be investing in targeted online advertisements, running the largest media campaign that they possible can."