Peltier column: Florida wants to be early bird in primary process

MICHAEL PELTIER

— Florida political leaders have struck their claim in the presidential primary land grab as they pushed the state’s contest to Jan. 31 and forced traditionally early primary venues to also move their contests earlier.

A committee created to pick the date for the primary decided the risk of losing half the state’s convention delegates in both parties was a small price to pay for placing the heavily-populated swing state near the head of the line, giving it more clout in choosing the Republican nominee.

In a move that provided fodder for Sunday morning talk shows, Florida political delegates decided last week the state will buck the national parties and hold its presidential preference primary Jan. 31.

Setting the stage for a last-minute flurry of decisions in traditionally early primary states, a committee of state political leaders voted 7-2 for the Jan. 31 date, a move that will likely result in the state losing half its voting bloc of delegates at the nominating conventions now less than a year away.

Florida would still be behind Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — states that have typically led off the presidential selection cycle — but is breaking the parties’ rules by going earlier than March 6. And all those early states may now move their own primaries earlier.

“We’re the biggest swing state in the union,” said former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican on the panel. “Texas is red, New York is blue, California is blue and we’re 10 electoral votes greater than Ohio. So, I think this is a real, real election in Florida.”

Two Democrats on the panel voted against the proposal, pushing instead for a March 6 date that would assure that both parties’ delegates will be seated. With the Democrats all but guaranteed to have a one-candidate convention, the necessity of having the state play prominently in the primary field isn’t there. From a Democrat perspective, helping their Republican opponents gain more national attention is of little, if any, value.

“I believe that Florida should respect the integrity of the process and comply with the rules that both political parties agreed to,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “I don’t want the voices of Floridians to be diminished and the state penalized because Florida failed to adhere to the agreement.”

The six Republicans on the panel dismissed such concerns, saying it has been decades since the conventions played key roles in the selection of a candidate. Instead, they more closely resemble a nominee’s kick off with much of the attention spent on giving the already anointed standard bearer as much free national attention as possible.

“Today’s modern convention, I believe and others believe, has become a formality and a coronation of the nominee who’s been determined by the momentum and coverage he gets in a 24-hour news cycle based on the victories achieved in the early stage,” said state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.

Let the games begin.

Email Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net.

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