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Florida's Move Means Primaries, Like Holiday Season, Start Earlier

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The decision by Florida’s Republican officials to move the state’s presidential primary into January from March will have a range of effects, some foreseeable, some not.

By advancing its primary date to Jan. 31, Florida makes it virtually certain the four traditional early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — will now move their caucuses and primaries to earlier in January to maintain their status as the earliest contests.

Under existing rules, they could have held their primaries and caucuses in February since states other than the traditionally first four were restricted from going earlier than March 6. But Florida has changed all that.

Now that Florida has flouted the rules, it’s also virtually certain several other states will as well. Arizona, Colorado and Michigan are among those thought to be in that category.

What’s also certain is that Florida Republicans will be in violation of their national party rules by breaking their earlier agreement to hold their primary in March.

But from that point, matters become less clear.

For instance, under national party rules, Florida should by right lose half of its 99 delegates to the national convention.

But in 2008, however, when Florida and Michigan were similarly penalized for moving their primaries to earlier dates, they wound up getting their delegates restored by the Democratic National Committee. The Republicans in 2008 maintained the penalty.

The potential loss of half those representatives to the 2012 convention delegates could create a problem if the Republican presidential race turns out to be a closely fought battle for delegates.

That’s because, before the penalty, the winner of the Florida primary could add scores of delegates to his total count.

But with fewer delegates, the winner might only be able to eke out a score of delegates.

As the Tampa Bay Online explained:

Florida, meanwhile, has 99 delegates if it avoids the penalties. A few would have to be divided up among the top finishers in the state primary, but as many as 65 to 70 would go to the first-place winner, he said. “We could put somebody in the lead, or make the leader a strong frontrunner,” he said. Moving to Jan. 31 would diminish that prize. Florida would lose half the delegates, plus its three RNC representatives, leaving 48, and all would be divided among the top finishers. The first-place finisher likely would get fewer than 20, he said.

The possibility of a brokered convention was dismissed by one of the Florida’s Republican lawmakers on the commission that on Friday voted to hold the primary on Jan. 31. The lawmaker argued that the last such conventions happened a long time ago, in 1948 for Republicans and 1952 for Democrats.

Of course, that bit of history is likely to be cold comfort if a brokered convention actually does happen because of Florida’s move, just as few took comfort in 2000 during the Florida vote recount when historians noted that the previous time an analogous mess occurred was in 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden.

The shifting forward of the primary calendar also makes a difficult situation even more so for any would-be presidential candidate now considering jumping into the race to actually do so. That’s because it compresses available campaign time even further. It probably also makes it even less likely that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey of Sarah Palin would enter the race, if they ever had any serious intentions of doing so.

It also means that lower tier candidates already in the race, like Jon Huntsman Jr., have even less time to break through to the top tier, if that were ever going to happen.

The converse, of course, is that the earlier primary season should help Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry since they should have plenty of money to run TV ads sooner rather than later and to jet hop across the early states meeting voters.

Meanwhile, it means that candidates, and the journalists who cover them, will have to take as little time off as possible around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays.

Candidates will need to work even harder to have their messages connect with voters sooner in the now-earlier first four states and to cover a vast state like Florida, with its ten media markets. Get prepared for seeing a lot more political ads during the holiday season.

In any event, a very helpful web site for keeping up the way states are moving up the primary season like retailers who start putting up their holiday decorations before Halloween is Frontloading HQ maintained by Josh Putnam, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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