Trump looks to woo critical voting block on Rubio, Bush turf

- Just three days after the New Hampshire primary and eight days before the South Carolina primary, presidential hopeful and media mogul Donald Trump will bring his campaign to the University of South Florida.

Trump will be the first political candidate to visit USF's campus, a strategic move, according to political science experts.

"This is the biggest media market in Florida. One-fourth of all the registered voters in the state live in this 10-county media market and it's the most competitive market. [It's] the most evenly divided between democrats and republicans and a lot of independents," said USF Political Science Professor Susan MacManus. "It's often said: as this market goes, so goes Florida and as Florida goes, so goes the nation."

Indeed, Trump's campaign appears keenly aware of the region's significance, calling the I-4 corridor the most important location for both the presidential primaries and, ultimately, the White House.

"You can't win the White House without winning Florida and you can't win Florida without doing extremely well in the Tampa Bay region," said Sarasota GOP Chairman and Trump supporter Joe Gruters.

Like MacManus, Gruters believes this is just the first of many visits by presidential candidates to Tampa.

Though current polls show Trump with a comfortable 20-point lead in the state, MacManus believes Florida will be his biggest test.

"He definitely needs to do well and prove that he can attract a big audience and following in a diverse state like Florida," said MacManus. "Florida is the most racially and ethnically diverse of the swing states and thus far he has done better in the more rural, conservative parts of the country."

Another key audience Trump will try to appeal to on his visit are Millennials. Currently trailing Florida senator Marco Rubio among Millennial voters, MacManus says winning over younger voters could be critical to a successful candidate's campaign.

"I guarantee you this election cycle you're going to see a lot of candidates on college campuses. Why? Because the Millennial Generation is the largest one in history. It's bigger than the Boomers and that generation is very much up for grabs," explained MacManus. "A lot of them register as independents or no party affiliation but they're ultimately going to vote for one party or another."

Trump's campaign is predicting his appearance Friday night, which is free for those whose request tickets, will sell out.

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The Sun Dome has a capacity of just over 10,000 and will charge $20 for parking the night of the event, though the University says students with current USF parking decals will be able to park in campus lots free of charge.

"A lot of students are excited to hear what he has to say to the Millennials," said Bailey Cunningham, director of events for college Republicans at USF.

Cunningham says she was quick to reserve her ticket to Friday night's rally, though she declined to say whether or not Trump has her vote. She also says she expects big crowds of both supporters, protesters and plenty of those who fall between at the Sun Dome when Trump arrives.

"It's definitely a polarizing person. No other candidate has really come on to campus, they've been around Tampa or in Tampa but not on USF's campus so it's definitely a different feeling," Cunningham said.

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