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Dems file bills to move presidential primary date; Rubio says leave it early

Posted Feb 10, 2011 by William March

Updated Feb 10, 2011 at 05:19 PM

A contest could be building over whether to change Florida’s presidential primary date, which is now so early it violates rules of both national parties.

Democrats in the state Legislature—Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Rep. Marty Kiar of Davie—have filed identical bills to move the primary from January to March. State Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith backs the move.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has also urged the state to change its date.

But at least some leading Republicans may resist.

“Florida’s an early state—we intend to keep it that way,” Sen. Marco Rubio said in a recent television interview, and state House Speaker Dean Cannon has said he prefers an early date.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he’d like to keep the primary as early as possible without having the state lose delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention because of the rules violations.

What’s at stake is Florida’s level of influence in choosing the GOP challenger to President Barack Obama in 2012.

An early primary could have more effect on the primary contest by providing the winning candidate momentum; but if that primary is so early it violates party rules, the state could be penalized, cutting the number of delegates it gets to award to the winning candidate. A delegate penalty would be something of an embarrassment, considering the convention will be held in Tampa, as well as lessening Florida’s impact on the outcome.

Joyner and Kiar’s legislation would move the primary to March, avoiding the penalties.

Even with a primary in March, however, the Republicans would have to use proportional allocation of the delegates—distributing them among the candidates based on their vote totals—instead of the winner-take-all allocation they’ve used in the past. That would make the state somewhat less of a prize to the winner; the new rules allow winner-take-all allocation only for primaries in April or later.