Florida Republican leaders officially set the state’s presidential primary for Jan. 31, 2012, challenging the preeminence of the traditional early-voting primary states and ensuring that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada will move up their dates in order to vote ahead of Florida as they have in the past.
“It is more important for states such as Florida not to be on the back end, but to be on the front end, of these primaries,” former state Sen. Al Lawson, a member of the presidential preference commission, told the St. Petersburg Times. The commission voted 7 to 2 to hold the primary on Jan. 31 after considering an even earlier date, Jan. 3, and a later date, March 6.
Under rules set last year by the Republican National Committee, any state attempting to leapfrog the early four by setting its primary date before March 6 would lose half of its delegates. By prioritizing the state’s influence on the nominating process over its delegate count, Florida Republicans will now lose half of 99 delegates to next year’s convention, which will be held in Tampa.
Reaction from the traditional early states was highly negative as expected.
South Carolina traditionally hosts the “first in the South” vote, and while the state’s GOP Chairman Chad Connelly condemned Florida’s move, he said he wouldn’t yet announce when they would set the Palmetto State’s primary.
“Today’s decision by Florida is hugely disappointing and could have been avoided,” he said in a statement. “Rogue states have once again dictated the presidential nominating calendar. I call on my fellow RNC members and all Republicans to strongly condemn Florida’s decision.
“… States who have worked so hard to maintain the nominating calendar should not be penalized and the offenders, including Florida, should lose their entire allocations of delegates at the national convention,” he said.
Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn said, “The arrogance shown by Florida's elected leadership is disappointing, but not surprising.... The consequences of Florida's intransigence must be swift and severe, including the refusal by the RNC to credential or seat any member of Florida's presidential primary date commission at the 2012 RNC convention in Tampa.”
States have until the end of Saturday to inform the RNC of the date they’ve chosen for their nominating contests—though that midnight deadline, like other RNC rules, appears flexible. Now that Florida has formally jumped into late January, the four early states are scrambling to set an agreeable schedule for their contests. The dominoes will begin to fall quickly this weekend, and in reverse order:
- South Carolina, which goes fourth, will likely be the first state to name its new date and Jan. 28 appears to be the most likely choice.
- Nevada is tethered to New Hampshire’s primary, meaning the state will holds its caucuses four days after Granite Staters vote.
- New Hampshire will go at least one week after Iowa, and one week before South Carolina. Jan. 17 seems likely, with Nevada subsequently going on Jan. 21.
- Iowa, likely to wait until the 11th hour to choose its date, will likely hold its leadoff caucuses on Jan. 10, should the other states follow the above predictions.
This article appears in the September 30, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.