Defying the national party officials, Florida Republicans on Friday pushed the state's primary date up to Jan. 31 — a week ahead of the scheduled date for New Hampshire's primary — in a move that will cause the traditional lead-off states to push their contests closer to the beginning of the new year and kick off the nomination process earlier than the National Republican Committee had hoped.
The date as decided by a nine-person commission that was appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the state Senate president and the House speaker. States like Florida have long complained that a later primary date — when the nomination battle can be all but settled — often gives them no say in the selection of the party nominee.
Now officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina are expected to follow through on their promises to protect their historical roles in the nomination process by moving their caucus and primary dates to early or mid-January.
"This compromise of Jan. 31 properly reflects the importance Florida will play on the national stage," said Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. "We look forward to having a great primary, and then hosting a world-class convention for our party's nominee. Florida will be the most important state in our efforts to defeat Barack Obama."
The 2012 primary season is the first to fall under new RNC rules aimed at avoiding 2008's front-loaded nomination battle, when candidates campaigned through Christmas in preparation for an exhausting rush of early January caucuses and primaries.
Under the new rules, the idea is to kick off the process in February with Iowa's initial caucuses, followed by New Hampshire's primary, Nevada's caucuses and South Carolina's primary. The rules award states bonus delegates for embracing later primary dates and establish penalties for states that don't follow suit.
Moves by Florida and other states to jump the line could cost their voting rights at the GOP convention in Tampa in late August 2012.
RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski downplayed the decision.
"While the primaries will now start earlier than planned, the overarching goal of the current rules was to allow more states and voters to have a role in choosing the next Republican nominee for president," she said. "This goal will be met."
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