- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Florida Republicans expect the national party to punish them if they go ahead with plans to hold their presidential primary Jan. 29 in violation of party calendar rules, but there is talk of a possible reprieve by the 2008 nominee, according to the Republicans’ state chairman.

A bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to move next year’s primary ahead of all but four states, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, would trigger Republican National Committee penalties that would cut the state’s delegation in half, reducing its clout at the national convention.

But that is a political trade-off that Florida Republicans say they are willing to make in exchange for being an early kingmaker in next year’s presidential sweepstakes.

“We anticipate the rule to be enforced. But in moving the primary to Jan. 29, we placed Florida in the driver’s seat in choosing a president and that puts the state of Florida and Governor Crist and our party in the national spotlight,” said Republican state Chairman Jim Greer.

“I would say that although the convention is important, whoever wins Florida on Jan. 29 will move into the Feb. 5 super primary day with great momentum and resources,” he said.

But Mr. Greer, who said he has talked to all the Republican national party’s officials about Florida’s intentions, also raised the possibility that the RNC’s rules could be waived at the request of the party’s nominee at the convention.

“I think the only thing I would say is that there is some discussion that the nominee of our party could instruct the RNC to not impose the rule. I’ve heard nothing official, but it is just behind-the-scenes discussion,” Mr. Greer told The Washington Times.

“I don’t know if that is possible, but it would be of interest to see if that is a possibility,” he said.

Both major parties have rules in place that forbid any states from holding a caucus or primary in January other than Iowa (Jan. 14), Nevada (Jan. 19), New Hampshire (Jan. 22), and South Carolina (Jan. 29). The calendar is wide open on or after Feb. 5, and nearly two dozen states have moved their contests up on that date or are considering doing so.

Florida Democrats are in negotiations with the Democratic National Committee on an alternate date on or after Feb. 5, but the decision by state Republican officials to hold their primary earlier has put the Republicans in an uncomfortable quandary about punishing a swing megastate whose 112 delegates could decide who will be their nominee.

If the RNC’s rules committee were to impose its penalty on Florida, “the candidates would be competing for half the delegates they thought they were competing for,” said David Norcross, a Republican national committeeman from New Jersey and chairman of the party’s rules committee.

If the race for the nomination went all the way to the convention and “it was a truly contested convention” where every delegate counted could change the outcome, “you could have a fight over whose delegation gets seated,” Mr. Norcross said.

Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, the RNC’s national chairman, is in a difficult spot, caught between his loyalty to his state party and his responsibilities to the national party. He has steadfastly said that the party’s rules “must be enforced by the party.”

An RNC official turned down a request from The Times for a response from the chairman.

“He is not available to comment on this story,” spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said.

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