State may move up its presidential primary


Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Lawmakers said Thursday they want Florida's primary pushed up to January 2008 to increase the state's political influence, but they may face retribution from the national Republican and Democratic parties.

Facts

What is proposed

  • The proposal would move the primary to either a week after New Hampshire's contest, which is currently slated for Jan. 22, or to
Feb. 5.
  • With a primary on Jan. 29, Florida would share the stage with South Carolina. On Feb. 5, the contest would take place with eight other states.
  • Florida lawmakers said the state — by virtue of its size and diversity — deserves a more crucial role in selecting the parties' presidential nominees. By the first week in March, when the primary is currently held, Florida's selection is largely irrelevant because the nominees are already clear.

    The proposal would move the primary to either a week after New Hampshire's contest, which is currently slated for Jan. 22, or to Feb. 5.

    With a primary on Jan. 29, Florida would share the stage with South Carolina. On Feb. 5, the contest would take place with eight other states. With Florida's early voting, voters could cast their ballots in mid-January right around the Iowa caucus, the nation's first contest.

    But the national Democratic and Republican parties have consistently opposed the idea to prevent a race between the states to have the earliest primary. And some have said Florida's size makes it impossible for underdog candidates to raise enough money to compete at such an early stage.

    The Democratic and Republican parties could punish Florida for moving its primary earlier than Feb. 5 by taking away half their state party's delegates to the nominating convention. The Democratic National Committee could also decide that candidates who campaigned in Florida for a primary earlier than Feb. 5 should not get the state's delegates if they win, according to DNC rules.

    A DNC spokesman said Florida's proposals were too premature to discuss specifics.

    The bill's bipartisan backers said they don't care — they'd rather choose the president than attend a perfunctory party where the outcome is preordained.

    "We know for sure that Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent the diversity of the United States of America," Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, told the House Ethics and Elections Committee on Thursday. "We know the state of Florida does. We know that, as Florida goes, so the country goes."

    Ring and Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who will sponsor the House bill, said their proposal has support from both chambers. It is also one of House Speaker Marco Rubio's "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," which is a centerpiece of his agenda for the next two legislative sessions.

    The House elections chairman, Rep. Pat Patterson, R-DeLand, said he favors the proposal, while his Senate counterpart, Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, said lawmakers needed to be "very cautious and careful" about the dates.

    Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning called the proposal a "benign issue" that wouldn't cause elections officials much trouble.

    Rivera and Ring said they think it's unfair that candidates come to Florida to raise money and then spend it in states with earlier contests like Iowa and New Hampshire.

    "Candidates are going to have to take Florida a little more seriously and not view it as just an ATM," said Mo Elleithee, a veteran of the Wesley Clark, Bob Graham and Bill Bradley presidential campaigns.

    Elleithee said an earlier Florida primary would present candidates with new challenges and opportunities.

    "Candidates have to spread their schedule a little more," he said. "Other candidates get more opportunities to break through in terms of media coverage because you're not necessarily sharing every media cycle with every other candidate."

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