Decision to move up date of Florida’s primary pays off

Jan 29, 2012

The following article was published in the Fort Myers News-Press on January 29, 2012:

Decision to move up date of Florida’s Primary pays off

By Don Walker

An early GOP presidential primary that brought retribution upon the Sunshine State is panning out to be a political “Super Bowl,” reaping cash, national attention and clout for Florida, say Republican Party politicians and leaders.

In a move to elevate the state’s stature in determining the Republican nominee for president, the Legislature moved Florida’s primary date from March 6 to Tuesday. That prompted national GOP leaders to sling accusations the state was rogue and arrogant and attempting to skew the election process.

But Florida is in the spotlight now, with the outcome of Tuesday’s election likely to propel the winner into a clear front-runner’s position.

Candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney headed into the weekend in a dead heat after their campaigns traveled the state — including several stops in Southwest Florida. Rick Santorum was running third in the polls, followed by Ron Paul.

“It’s a risk we took, but it’s paying off,” said state Senate President Mike Haridopolos. “This has turned into a jackpot. The eyes of the nation and the world, really, are on Florida.

“I understand concerns some had, but this is what leadership is about. You step up despite people being critical of your actions,” he said. “We are clearly going to be the key state in the general election, so it’s only natural we have a role in the nominating process as well.”

Lee County Republican Party Chairman Gary Lee echoed Haridopolos.

“This effectively shows the wisdom of the state Legislature,” he said.

Even though Florida was penalized, losing half its convention delegates, Lee said so be it. “This further gives Florida more clout. It was absolutely worth it.”

Haridopolos called Florida the bellwether state in the general election, and said the payoff of an early primary is proving immeasurable. He compared the political frenzy in Florida to the Super Bowl.

“You’re seeing millions upon millions of dollars in advertisements, there are thousands of reporters and campaign workers using our hotels, eating in our restaurants. Seven straight days of action,” he said. “And not only are all eyes on Florida, but this week — with its mild weather and sunshine — people will be looking at us across the country as they put on their winter jackets and shovel snow and say, ‘We should be down in Florida.’”
Florida’s decision to hold its Republican presidential primary in January was seen as a snub to GOP rules and triggered angry responses from traditional early voting states, which had to shuffle their calendars to stay ahead in the 2012 presidential race.

Under rules set last year by the Republican National Committee, the move cost Florida 50 of its 99 delegates to the August convention, which will be held in Tampa.

Florida’s role in the election is decisive in that the state — unlike the smaller, more rural states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — reflects the nation as a whole demographically, economically and politically, Haridopolos said.

“That’s why we’re such a bellwether state,” he said. “We’re split between Republicans and Democrats, we have a little higher senior population, we’ve got the Hispanic and black populations and an emerging, modern economy. We’re very in tune in what direction the entire nation is going and we help lead the rest of the nation in setting that direction. California used to be that catalyst, but Florida is inheriting that role.”

For the state as a whole, “it turned out to be a great move for Florida,” said political analyst Aubrey Jewett of the University of Central Florida.

“I think even more so because we had three different winners from the first three primaries, so it’s perceived to still be an open race between Gingrich and Romney.

Tuesday marks the political season’s first closed primary, meaning only registered Republicans will vote. It will establish who the GOP believes is the best candidate to run against President Barack Obama.

Primaries or caucuses will follow in Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona and Maine in February.

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