Florida always manages to throw a wrench into presidential politics, and this year is no different.
In 2000, Florida tied the country in knots by hanging its chads and reducing the number of voters choosing the president of the United States to five (all of them on the U.S. Supreme Court).
Eight years later, Florida shared the naughty state spotlight with Michigan, when the two states nearly sparked a floor fight at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, after the two went rogue, leapfrogging other states’ primaries. Both states were stripped of their convention delegates by the Democrats (and of half of their delegates by the Republicans.) But after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton emerged from a bruising “Super Tuesday” in March with a hair’s thin margin separating them, the Clinton camp pushed to seat her delegates from Michigan and Florida, despite campaign pledges to ignore both primaries. The subsequent fight over Florida’s delegation nearly split the state party in two.
Now, Florida is at it again, with the Republican-controlled Legislature throwing a proverbial monkey wrench into the presidential works by jumping the gun for the second presidential cycle in a row. The Florida primary will take place Jan. 31 — which you could call the latest cry for attention by a state where attention-seeking behavior is so embedded, there should be a picture of a kicking, screaming toddler on the state flag.
South Carolina has responded in kind, moving its “first in the South” primary to Jan. 21. Now, both states risk losing their convention delegates for violating the Republican National Committee’s rules. (Democrats won’t have a presidential primary, despite Princeton professor Cornel West’s fondest wishes.)
And with Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada placing substantial political and “pride capital” in their early positions on the election calendar, we will now have five major contests next January. At this rate, we could soon see voting in the presidential primaries competing with Santa’s gift delivery schedule.
Just think: voting machines rolled into Toys-R-Us to make voting-while-shopping more efficient for busy holiday shoppers (and elves).
Florida’s move has serious implications for the GOP presidential contenders. Cramming five primaries and caucuses into a single month will make it difficult — if not impossible — for less monied candidates to compete across the early map. And it will drain the coffers of any who try.
Candidates with the cash to front-load into the primary/caucus process will reap a tremendous advantage, while those who don’t have a bang-up fourth quarter this year may have to skip key primary states like Florida.
Competing in Florida isn’t cheap. With 10 media markets and two time zones, the state is one of the costliest propositions in American politics. It’s also more ethnically diverse than other states on the early calendar. Only Nevada rivals the state in terms of Hispanic population, but unlike Florida, Nevada’s Latino population is largely Mexican-American; a constituency that leans strongly Democratic. Florida has a variable Hispanic voting bloc, with Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans in the Southeast, Democratic leaning Puerto Rican voters in the central part of the state, and a raft of other ethnic subsets, with varying political persuasions, in between.
Florida is also a tea party-heavy state, with some of the largest tea party organizations in the Southeast. A candidate with pre-existing ties to those groups could have a tremendous advantage on the ground.
So who does Florida’s go-early primary benefit?
For the answer: click here.
Meanwhile, no sooner had I filed my column Wednesday afternoon, than Nevada moved its primary to January 14, which could nudge Iowa’s caucuses to … wait for it … December. Meaning THIS December. Happy holidays!
So here’s the potential calendar, as messed up by Florida:
Iowa caucuses – December/January
New Hampshire primary – ? But state law mandates it be 7 days before any other primary
Nevada caucuses – January 14
South Carolina primary – January 21
Florida primary – January 31