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FAQ: What's at stake tonight in Florida?

By Bryan Monroe, CNNPolitics.com Editor
updated 8:27 PM EST, Tue January 31, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • How many delegates at stake? It's fewer because of a penalty
  • When will a winner be called? Florida is in two times zones, so it will be delayed
  • Why is Florida such a big deal? It's population and diversity are the keys

Tune in to CNN now for live coverage of the Florida primary results. Watch it all live on CNN.com/Live and CNN's mobile apps.

(CNN) -- With the results from the critical Florida primary coming in tonight, here are a few answers to the top questions:

How many delegates are on the table tonight?

There are 50. Originally, 99 delegates were at stake in Florida, until the state Republicans broke the rules. They are being penalized by the Republican National Committee for moving their primary up into January -- violating the tradition of contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada going first -- and will lose 50% of their delegates.

Will Florida determine a front-runner?

So tonight's primary, while the biggest so far, will be worth just 50 delegates in a winner-take-all contest.

What time will things happen?

Most polls in Florida close at 7 p.m. ET. However, a handful of counties in the Panhandle, in the northwestern corner of the state, are in the Central Time Zone, so polls there close 8 p. m. ET (7 p. m. local time).

We should start seeing actual vote returns when most polls close at 7 p.m. ET on CNNPolitics.com and live on CNN-TV. But, in keeping with longstanding policy, CNN will not project any winner until after 8 p.m. ET when all the polls in the state have closed.

A sign guides voters to the polls in Panama City, Florida, on Tuesday. Fifty delegates are at stake in the GOP presidential primary.
A sign guides voters to the polls in Panama City, Florida, on Tuesday. Fifty delegates are at stake in the GOP presidential primary.

Why Is Florida different than the other early states?

Florida is a Big Deal. The fourth and largest of the early contests, The Sunshine state is like no other.

Get up-to-the-minute news on our live blog

It's a complex state that has diversity -- 22% of the population is Latino, two out of five are non-white. It faces economic challenges -- high unemployment and a heavy home foreclosure rate. And it features dramatic regional variances -- big cities such as Miami, Orlando and Tampa and rural communities in the north and Panhandle. And don't forget the 2000 elections and hanging chads.

What's next?

The winner of the Florida primary will likely emerge as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, a prize that could definitely garner increased fundraising, the coalescing of the party around him, and, of course, momentum.

Still, with 2,177 delegates and 46 states left before the Republican convention starts up in late August in Tampa, the race is not even close to being over.

Next up are the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, with 28 delegates at stake. Then the candidates turn their attention to the mini-Tuesday primaries on February 7, when Minnesota and Colorado hold caucuses and Missouri has a primary, and 128 delegates in total will be up for grabs.

After that, the next big showdown will be Super Tuesday on March 6, where 11 states hold contests on the same day, and as many as 441 delegates will be at stake.

Between now and then, there are very real options for the other candidates to mount a formidable run by focusing on the volatile caucus states or mounting a campaign against the front-runner.

It's only January; anything can still happen.

CNN's Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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