This weekend Republican presidential candidates will descend on Florida for three days worth of political events. (A political junkie’s dream!)

Here’s what’s happening and why you should care.

What’s going on? A whole bunch of things, all at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando Florida.

The main event is P5 — or Presidential 5, a conference hosted by the Florida GOP from Thursday Sept. 22nd to Saturday Sept. 25th. About 5,000 activists are supposed to attend, including 3,500 delegates chosen by Florida county chairs.

This weekend’s P5 is the fifth such conference — PI was in 1979, PII was in 1987, PIII was in 1995 and PIV was in 2007.

The schedule:

Thursday: Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition will host a pre-debate rally in the afternoon, featuring most of the presidential candidates. That night, the contenders will face off in a debate hosted by Fox News and Google. It the third debate in the last 15 days.

Friday: The candidates will court P5 delegates at various forums. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will also host a debate for the GOP candidates hoping to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D) next year.

Saturday: The candidates will each address the Florida delegates directly. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will deliver the keynote speech in the afternoon. Then the delegates will vote in the straw poll.

The full schedule is here.

Texas Govenor Rick Perry is going all-out for the Florida straw poll. (Willis Glassgow/AP)

Who’s in the debate? The usual suspects — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Godfathers’ Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former China ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who hasn’t been seen since the May South Carolina debate, is also participating. The criteria was cracking 1 percent in five recent national polls, and Johnson qualified, despite objections from the Florida GOP.

Who’s in the straw poll? Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, and Santorum are all competing in the straw poll. Perry in particular has been vocal about his investment in the poll, even announcing a leadership team just for the event. Huntsman called the event “diminished,” so he’s obviously not expecting to do very well. (Worth noting: His national campaign headquarters are in, you guessed it, Orlando!)

Bachmann is not competing, citing limited resources and Romney announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t be participating in any straw polls. Their names are expected to appear on the ballot, but they won’t address the delegates. Johnson was kept out of the straw poll by the Florida Republican Party.

Is there a lot of money involved? Not really. Unlike the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa last month, delegates pay their own registration fees and book their own hotels. In past cycles, candidates have courted the delegates with expensive events, but this time around there’s been little high-profile campaigning. That said, the Florida GOP says at least one (unnamed) campaign has paid thousands of dollars for a list of delegates.

Why does it matter? Florida is a critical state in both the Republican primary and the general election. While most of the 2012 focus so far has been on Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, none of those early contests is expected to be decisive. Even with the state’s primary date up in the air, no candidate can afford to ignore Florida, and some of the most influential and active Republicans will be at this event.

Does the poll mean anything? Straw polls generally have little predictive value, as evidenced by the fact that longshot candidates keep winning them. Paul just won one in California; Santorum just won another in Pennsylvania. Even the higher-profile straw polls should be taken with a big grain of salt. Bachmann’s Ames Straw Poll win might have been her high point in the race.

But the P5 Straw Poll has a good track record — every Florida straw poll winner has gone on to win the Republican nomination, although last cycle the straw vote was scrapped.

What else is going on in Florida this weekend? On Friday, the American Conservative Union is hosting its Florida Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC-FL. Most 2012 candidates are speaking there too, along with some well-known conservative pundits. The event is not affiliated with P5, but the two won’t overlap. The full schedule for that event is here.

Can anyone go?Yes and no. The Faith and Freedom Coalition rally is free. You can still get into the CPAC events, but it will cost you — $45 for adults, $25 for students. The P5 events are for guests and delegates only.

Well, can I watch it online? It’s the weekend, don’t you have plans? Just kidding-- we know you don’t. Almost every event can be watched from the comfort of your own home. The debate will air on Fox News from 9 pm to 11 pm Eastern Time. CSPAN will cover the CPAC speeches, and the Saturday events will stream on


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