Bill Whalen

Florida Land Rush

Add to death and taxes, life’s third certainty: some state, every four years, leapfrogging the primary conga line and laying waste to a party’s best-laid plans.

California pushed up the date of its presidential primary in each election from 1996 to 2008 in hopes of becoming a White House kingmaker.

It was only so much “California Dreamin”.

In 2012, the Golden State retreats to June and relative anonymity in the GOP selection, barring a prolonged competition that drags out the process for sixth months.

In 2008, it was Florida’s turn to play rogue nation-state – the Sunshine State moving its presidential primary-date to Jan. 29 of the year, despite threats of delegations not being seated at the national convention.

And now, 2012 – a new election cycle, with Florida again is making trouble. State officials have decided to advance its presidential primary to January 31 of next year (the Republican National Committee had initially called for Florida to vote after March 1, fifth in the states’ procession).

The ripple effect?

  1. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – all states that GOP planners hoped and prayed would hold back until February, and before Florida – are expected to move up en masse to January, as they did in 2008.
  2. Instead of a holiday “truce”, December politicking will be more intense – just as it was in 2007. Santa Claus, it seems, won’t be the only one handing out goodies come Yuletide. For political strategists, this is an enormous headache: how heavily to spend on media and travel when voters are distracted by holiday fare.
  3. The 2012 vote starting in . . . 2011. Tired of other states; shenanigans, New Hampshire may deploy the “nuclear option” and shift its go-time to December 2011. Iowa’s thinking the same, as is Nevada, also scheduled to vote in February but thinking of creeping up to Jan. 21 – if not sooner.

Meanwhile, the fallout:

  1. Somewhere, Mitt Romney’s smiling. Distancing Florida from the more countrified “Super Tuesday” states that vote in early March boosts Romney’s “tortoise” strategy by making it more difficult for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to build momentum (wins in South Carolina and Florida spilling into the “Super Tuesday” states – how John McCain punched his ticket in 2008).
  2. Less-visible candidates going into full Oliver Stone mode (Rick Santorum already has) and decrying a conspiracy by party insiders seemingly to help the frontrunners by speeding up the primaries’ pace.
  3. As per usual, the tail wags the dog. Florida Republicans defied their national party’s Pooh-Bahs in 2008 and moved up their primary – without punishment, as the full delegation was recognized at the McCain-Palin convention. Once again, the Florida delegation (in theory) will be sanctioned.  But seeing as the 2012 Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, one imagines party officials will avoid a p.r. debacle and seat the entire host delegation.

The shame of this is Florida, by insisting on being a player in the early phase of the 2012 election, ultimately shortchanges itself.

Imagine a 2012 in which Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina begin the Republican-vetting process. And then: a two- or three-week break before the voting resumes in Florida.

There may be no less a complex political landscape. Florida is home to both younger Rustbelt ex-pats and elderly retirees. It’s multi-generation southerners and first- and second-generation immigrants. Rural tradition clashes with cities on steroids. The Everglades and environmental stewardship clashes with land development and offshore drilling. Floridians want less government, plus the guarantee of a federal safety net (FEMA, Social Security, Medicare). Cuba, Haiti and Israel are but three ingredients in a foreign-policy alphabet soup.

Such a state deserves a thorough vetting and not a brief scramble after the expected scrum in South Carolina, as is the current practice.

All food for thought, when Florida again messes with the system in 2016.

 

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