Even though only 30 Michigan delegates had voting rights during Mitt Romney’s nomination ceremony on Tuesday, all 59 get to sit front and center on the convention floor. That’s a big deal for a delegation from one of the states that has been in the doghouse with the Republican National Committee for breaking the rules by setting an early primary date.
Likewise, Florida was allowed to seat all 99 of its delegates on the convention floor, even though only 50 of them had official voting privileges. Its location on the floor is almost as good as Michigan’s, in the center toward the back.
Michigan and Florida are among the five states whose convention delegate votes were cut in half after they moved up their elections. Florida pushed its primary to Jan. 31, violating the long-standing political tenet that New Hampshire holds the nation’s first primary. New Hampshire and South Carolina retaliated by leaping ahead of Florida; Michigan and Arizona also jumped the party schedule.
But in Tampa, all was forgiven. That absolution illustrates the GOP’s delicate balance. On the one hand, it needs to keep the peace. On the other, it can’t sanction rule breakers.
The real culprit was Florida. The others were protecting their turf, and Michigan and Arizona hardly threatened “first primary” territory (they scheduled their primaries on the last day of February).
Michigan officials declared weeks ago that they would bring the state’s full elected delegation to Tampa, even though it wasn’t guaranteed that they would all get seated on the floor. Many traveled to Tampa on their own dime. “We are just super-excited and grateful,” said state Republican Party spokesman Matt Frendewey. (The situation wasn’t quite as risky for Florida, where most delegates live close enough not to need to book advance travel reservations.)
Arizona, by contrast, came with just 29 official delegates. New Hampshire has 12. South Carolina has 25. All state delegations bring alternates who are allowed to sit in the areas above the convention floor, although some delegates trade off their floor passes so that everyone gets a chance to see the show from there.
The RNC’s goodwill didn’t extend to hotel assignments, however, at least for South Carolina and Florida. The two delegations are marooned at a resort 30 miles from the convention site, an hour’s drive in rush-hour traffic. The Innisbrook Golf Resort is perhaps the roomiest of the accommodations for state delegations, with roads between buildings winding around lush
South Carolina GOP officials say they don’t regret moving the primary date. Delegate Drew McKissick, who is also a member of the convention’s Rules Committee, said that it is more important to maintain the state’s “first in the South” status.
It’s hard to know whether a similar situation could crop up in 2016. The Rules Committee failed to approve harsher delegate vote sanctions for offending states such as Florida. And in the future, states that react to another state’s primary schedule by moving their own primaries will no longer be punished in the same manner. “If it happens again, we won’t get penalized. Florida would,” McKissick said.
This article appears in the August 29, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.