- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Defying national party officials, a top Florida Republican said Wednesday that the Sunshine State is on the verge of jumping the line and holding its presidential primary Jan. 31, as states jockey to move up in the calendar to increase their influence and clout.

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told The Washington Times that the commission is prepared to select the last day in January against the wishes of the Republican National Committee, a move that will reshuffle the nomination calendar and push the traditional leadoff states to hold their contests earlier still.

Mr. Cannon said that the proposed date satisfies the twin goals of having the Sunshine State play a key role in the early part of the nomination contest and of having a primary date all to itself — forcing the presidential candidates and voters nationwide to focus their attention on Florida.

“It is far more important that we protect Florida’s voters’ voices in the dialogue of who our party’s nominees are and who the next president is than that we stringently comply with national party rules,” he said, arguing that the pluses of moving up the date far outweigh the minuses of possible penalties from the RNC.

Mr. Cannon said that he thinks he was on the same page with the offices of Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Mike Haridopolos — who each appointed three members to the commission responsible for setting the date, joining his own three appointees.

The 2012 primary 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 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.

RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said national party officials will continue to work with Florida and other states in the lead up to the party’s Oct. 1 deadline for setting primary dates to ensure they abide by the rules.

“Any state that violates the rules will lose 50 percent of its [convention] delegates,” she warned.

In 2008, Florida and Michigan jumped the line, and both the RNC and the Democratic National Committee stripped the states of half their delegates at the national conventions, though the DNC initially threatened to refuse all the states’ delegates.

And since a rules-abiding Florida would be expected to have the third-largest number of delegates at the Tampa, Fla., convention, even a half-strength delegation would be among the larger ones and a major prize for the candidates.

Despite the new rules, Mr. Cannon said the commission is poised to solidify the date when the panel meets Friday.

“The RNC has an almost impossible job because they are trying to coordinate among 50 states … and each state has to do what’s best for their own citizens,” Mr. Cannon said. “I think it’s one of those things that they can impose whatever the rules provide, but I hope they would understand after this cycle that perhaps that rule should be re-examined.”

Still, the decision is not a big surprise, as Florida has been threatening for months to move up its primary date, as it did in 2008. And officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have said they will protect their traditional leadoff primary and caucus dates by moving them to early January or mid-January, ensuring they kick off the nomination process.

Arizona already has broken party scheduling rules, which protect those four states by granting them alone the right to hold primaries or caucuses before March 6. For now, Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus is set for Feb. 6.

Earlier this month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer set the state’s primary election for Feb. 28, though the state backed off a threat to shift its primary date into January, a move that could have thrown the entire schedule into chaos.

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