Senate Pres, Gov Disagree on Primary Date

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 10, 2011 --

While the leaders of both major political parties in Florida agree that the state’s 2012 presidential primary should be moved from January, the state’s Republican governor and Senate president do not.

Despite calls from leaders of the Republican Party of Florida and Florida Democratic Party to hold the primary within the parameters approved last year by the national political parties, Republican Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Thursday that he’d like the primary to remain early – before there’s a clear front runner – so that more presidential candidates will court Florida voters during the campaign.

But Gov. Rick Scott, also a member of the GOP, said Thursday that it wasn’t worth risking Florida’s delegate strength at the Republican nomination convention.

“I want to have it as early as we can, but I don’t want to lose any of the delegates,” Scott told reporters after speaking with employees at the Department of Management of Services in Tallahassee.

Legislation was filed this week by two Democrats to move the state primary back to March, after both RPOF Chairman David Bitner and Democratic Chairman Rod Smith urged lawmakers to push the primary back from January.

A primary that is too early could lead to a penalty by the political parties – which is what happened in 2008 when both parties stripped Florida of some delegates at the nominating convention because of the early primary. That might be particularly embarassing next year for Republicans, who are holding their convention in Tampa.

“That’s, I guess, a risk we take,” said Haridopolos.

“Florida’s the most important state in the presidential election,” he said. “I happen to think the position we’re in right now is the correct one. We’re going to most likely decide who the next president of the United States is. I think it’d make a lot of sense if we did it early in the process.”

Having an early primary is likely to result in a line of presidential candidates coming to the state. Many of them on the GOP side might campaign with Haridopolos, who will be seeking the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate.

Even waiting until March still risks going against the parties. Under rules adopted for the first time by both national parties, states that hold primaries in March will have their delegates divvied up to candidates proportionally, even if they are normally winner-take-all states like Florida. The rule is aimed at keeping the race competitive early on.

The only way for Florida to hold a winner-take-all primary and have its delegates fully counted at the convention would be to wait until at least April 1. The bills (SB 860, HB 695) filed this week by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie, call for the primary to be held on the first Tuesday in March, which would result in a March 6 primary in Florida.

Smith on Thursday called on the GOP-led Legislature to quickly pass the primary bill.

“With the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee adopting the same timing rules for the first time ever, setting the example of bi-partisan cooperation, it is our sincere hope that the Republican Legislature will pass the legislation from Sen. Joyner and Rep. Kiar that will ensure full representation of our state at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions,” Smith said.

Republican Party spokesman Trey Stapleton said similarly that Bitner and the party would like to be in compliance with the RNC’s rules. “But he also understands the desire for Florida to play a prominent role” in the presidential contest, Stapleton said.

A spokeswoman said House Speaker Dean Cannon agrees with Haridopolos that Florida should play a big role in the 2012 primaries and prefers an early date.

“He favors keeping Florida a major player in the presidential preference primary selection process,” Cannon spokeswoman Katie Betta told the News Service..

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is also on record as wanting to keep the primary in January.

Further seeking to boost the state’s profile in the 2012 primaries, Haridopolos said Thursday that he was inviting several Republican presidential candidates to meet state lawmakers in Tallahassee. The first visit is scheduled to take place next Wednesday evening at the Capitol, but Haridopolos declined to say who would be the guest speaker.

Haridopolos also did not say whether he would eventually make an endorsement in the nomination fight, though the high-profile visits could help raise his own profile in the state ahead of what figures to be a heated primary for Senate. Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral are considered possible candidates.

In 2008, former Gov. Charlie Crist made a late endorsement of John McCain in the days leading up to the Florida primary, which is widely credited with sealing the state – and the nomination – for the Arizona senator. Months later, Crist ended up on McCain’s short list for vice-president, though the spot ultimately went to Sarah Palin.


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