Florida Flouting Primary Rules. Again.

Florida has again scheduled its primary ahead of the deadlines set by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Florida's presidential primary election date is currently in blatant violation of RNC rules. | AP Photo


In 2008, Florida violated the agreements they had entered into with the Democratic Party and ran their primaries ahead of the authorized schedule, suffering penalties for so doing. The Sunshine State is doubling down in 2012.

Politico (“Florida threatens to shred 2012 calendar“):

A deepening standoff between national Republicans and top party leaders in Florida has the potential to blow up the 2012 presidential primary calendar — and do lasting damage to the GOP in the nation’s largest swing state.

At issue is the early date of Florida’s presidential primary election, currently set for Jan. 31, 2012. As of right now, it’s the first primary scheduled. That’s in blatant violation of Republican and Democratic National Committee rules, which say only four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – can hold primary elections before the beginning of March.

But despite the pleas of GOP officials in Washington, the Republican leaders of Florida’s legislature say they have no intention of shifting the date in a way that could diminish the Sunshine State’s influence in 2012. Key officials signaled they would accept nothing less than going fifth on the primary calendar — not leapfrogging the four early states, but clearly marked off from the other 45.

“Florida’s the most important presidential state and we’d like to keep our current position as one of the early states,” said state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who called Florida “the first so-called ‘megastate’ in the presidential race.” “We liked our position last time, following South Carolina,” he explained.


The quadrennial ritual of presidential primary calendar jockeying has become a familiar practice as states attempt to increase their influence over the nominating process — almost invariably in vain. But Florida is negotiating from an unusually strong position.

Thanks to the last round of census data, Florida is now by far the country’s largest swing state, with 29 electoral votes. The closest runners-up are Pennsylvania, with 20, and Ohio, with 18. That alone could make it dangerous for Republicans to penalize Florida for holding an out-of-order primary.

What’s more, national Republicans are holding their 2012 convention in Tampa, so any penalty on Florida’s convention delegation would be particularly embarrassing.

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon said the risk of being penalized at the 2012 convention was “outweighed in my mind by the advantage of having Florida earlier in the cycle.”

The entire process is absurd. It’s laughable that tiny, unrepresentative states like Iowa and New Hampshire should have such outsized power simply out of deference to tradition. And South Carolina and Nevada have even less of a claim on a privileged spot at the head of the line.

Florida’s refusal to go along with the game not only puts the parties in an awkward position but invites other states to do the same, creating a race to the front.

My own preference would be to hold a national primary in, say, March followed by a run-off in, say, May or June for races in which no candidate got a majority. That’s expensive and advantages those with strong early name recognition but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. Alternatively, we could have a series of “Super Tuesday” style contests — perhaps five of them, with either equal numbers of states or equal populations — and rotate the order every four years. Either would be preferable to the current farce.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. One solution I’ve seen mentioned in the past that seems appealing is a staggered system of regional primaries, basically breaking the nation up into four (or five) areas each of which would have their own version of “Super Tuesday” starting in February of the election year. The order could be changed so that the same region of the country isn’t going first each year, and the states would be varied enough between small and large states that it would be more reflective of the country than Iowa or new New Hampshire are currently.

    Or, the national primary idea could work as well.

    Of course, since they are both eminently sensible ideas, they’ll never be adopted.

  2. Andy G says:

    I’ve always thought that they should basically break it up into 4-5 regions at one region per month. You’d start off with the smallest states the first week, and anchor it on the backside with one of the mega states. Every cycle you’d then rotate the order of regions so sometimes it would be the west coast, sometimes the northeast, southeast, etc. This way we minimize wasted travel time between far flung states. Small states and the more personal campaign style still have an outsized influence. But fairness between populations is much better.

  3. Trumwill says:

    I think that there is something to be gained from staggered primaries. A series of Super Tuesdays, with rotating positioning, strikes me as a better idea than a national primary. Having staggered primaries allows outside candidates to build support as the season goes on and demonstrate the ability to win, as Obama did. Or alternately, to demonstrate an unreadiness for prime time, as Howard Dean did. If you have a national primary, you’re going to have everyone gravitating even more towards candidates pre-deemed to be “serious” lest they get eliminated early. That already happens, but it would happen moreso with a national primary.

  4. wr says:

    As long as we’re moving to a national primary, why don’t we just take the extra step, brought to you by Scalia, Thomas, et al. We’ll see which Republican can get the most money from mulitnational corporations, then appoint him president.

  5. John Burgess says:

    @wr: Have you considered writing a comic strip? I’m sure you’d have at least one fan.

  6. reid says:

    “Or alternately, to demonstrate an unreadiness for prime time, as Howard Dean did.”

    It’s been a few years now, but really, don’t you mean it gives candidates more time to commit a gaffe? Maybe Dean really was not ready for prime time, but the only thing I remember was a victory yargle (new word) that was unfairly blown out of proportion.

  7. narciso says:

    The irony that the supporter of the largest contributions from AIG, BP. Countrywide, Goldman,
    Chase et al, escapes him utterly. A national primary would be simply too cost prohibitive, for anyone except maybe Bloomberg, and I don’t think he would entertain such a notion.

  8. Trumwill says:

    It’s been a few years now, but really, don’t you mean it gives candidates more time to commit a gaffe?

    To some extent, yes. To make mistakes and respond to those mistakes in a way to minimize the damage. They all make mistakes, but we learn more about them by how they deal with them. To wit, we’ve learned a whole lot about Sarah Palin by the way that she has responded to criticism and the like. In a national primary, someone like her could avoid mistakes just long enough to pull a Sharron Angle upset, but then saddle the party with a nominee without a prayer of winning. On the other hand, I do not believe that someone like Palin would be able to make it through the entire primary process.

    the only thing I remember was a victory yargle (new word) that was unfairly blown out of proportion.

    Good term, but it wasn’t a victory yargle insofar as he lost. I thought it was blown out of proportion, but it was part of a greater response to his early loss in Iowa that exposed some pretty significant weaknesses as a candidate. Had he managed to win a national primary, those weaknesses (frivolous, in many ways) would not have gone away.

  9. Trumwill says:

    I should clarify, the “weaknesses” transcended the yargle. It became apparent that he his organization wasn’t strong. Lots of enthusiasm, which is good for making a splash, but not great organization. Contrast this with Obama’s people, who really knew what they were doing. That sort of thing carries over into a general election campaign.

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    “The entire process is absurd. It’s laughable that tiny, unrepresentative states like Iowa and New Hampshire should have such outsized power simply out of deference to tradition.”

    But you have no problem with tiny unrepresentative states each with two senators having outsize power. Essentially it’s the same philosophically. Do your really think these early races have huge impact these days, I’d have said it was less than it used to be.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @BJ: I actually think the Senate and Electoral College are ridiculously outmoded and that it’s absurd California and Wyoming have the same representation. But that’s simply too hard wired into our system to change.

  12. Ernieyeball says:

    It’s been a long time since Govt. 101 at Sleepytown U.
    Just what is a National/Regional Primary anyway?
    I always thought Primary elections or State party caucasus were basically contests within(?) political parties to nominate candidates to run for government office in general elections. I know some States have laws that define who can cast ballots in these events. (Only registered party members in some places, all parties candidates on one ballot in others and everything in between.)
    The US Constitution does not even mention political parties.
    I find it hard to believe the National aka Federal government could create such a battle!
    Does this mean all the State Republican parties and all the State Democrat parties would have to sing in unison with their National Red and Blue factions?
    Who is going to define what a political party is? If a candidate wants to run on the Tea Party Ticket will it be the State Legislature or the US Congress or both who determine ballot access?
    I bet we see a playoff system in the Football Bowl Subdivision before all the State legislatures give up their political power to what, who? A National Presidential Primary Commission, Cabinet Post, what?

  13. Josh Putnam says:

    The race to the front scenario you mentioned, James, is complicated by the fact that most state legislatures are only in session for a short period of time this winter and spring. If other states are going to make a move they have to do it before the window to introduce legislation closes. And there is no indication that other states are interested in moving forward. Idaho is on the verge of moving up a week in May (http://frontloading.blogspot.com/2011/02/idaho-house-bill-to-move-presidential.html) and there is a bill in Texas to move into February (http://frontloading.blogspot.com/2010/11/bill-introduced-in-texas-house-to-move.html) but that’s it.

    The threat in the 2012 cycle is from states currently scheduled in February (or January in Florida’s case) that have to move to comply with national party rules. Those states not moving is the threat. But there’s no race to the front; only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina racing to get in front of the earliest non-exempt state. And that likely will be later than the start in 2008.