Tallahassee two-step

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Florida Republicans and the Republican National Committee seem destined for a head on collision tomorrow as the next chapter unfolds in the debate over the date of the 2012 Florida Primary. RNC Chief of Staff Jeff Larson will meet with staff of Florida legislators to try to find a solution to the stand-off over when the primary will be held, but there seems to be little common ground.

Currently, the Florida Primary is set for January 31, 2012. That is before any the early states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada – have their events planned, and violates the RNC’s rules, which allow no state, other than those four, to hold a primary or caucus before the first Tuesday in March.

Florida Republicans, both in the State House and Senate and the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) have said that they would be willing to move it back.

Being the fifth state to hold a primary would be a good compromise, said the chairman of RPOF in a statement last week. The sentiment was echoed by the Speaker of the House and other legislators.

But even going fifth, all parties agree, holding the primary any later than the end of February would be unacceptable.

“The Governor, Legislature and RPOF Chairman are all in agreement that a primary date sometime in late February will preserve Florida’s role in the process, while also maintaining an orderly calendar for the RNC ,” said RPOF Communications Director Trey Stapleton.

Even though late February would put the Florida Primary after the four early states, the Sunshine State will still be in violation of the RNC’s rules. Florida will be “penalized” if it does not adhere to the RNC’s calendar, said Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC.

“We’re going to enforce the rules for the RNC,” he said. “The penalties include losing half of their delegates,” Spicer said.

The meeting tomorrow is intended to open the dialogue and attempt to find a solution that satisfies all parties. But that solution doesn’t seem to exist. Florida Republicans appear to have dug their heels in, and the RNC has little leverage. The threat that Florida would lose their delegates was on the table in the last presidential election, and the RNC never went through with it.

“Florida has the fourth largest population, a very diverse electorate, and is an important swing state” said Stapleton. “The Republican nominee needs Florida to win the presidency.” As numerous Florida officials pointed out, Florida has 29 electoral votes; the first four primary states combined only have 25.

Moreover, the incentives of holding the primary early appear to outweigh the cost of possibly losing delegates – a perspective that House Speaker Dean Cannon shares.

“For him the more important part is that Florida be first,” said Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Cannon. She explained that while the Speaker respected people’s concerns that Florida could lose delegates, “at the same time, the momentum that candidate would gain from winning a state like Florida would be seen after Florida regardless.”

Moroever, Betta added, there is an economic benefit to the state, which currently faces a 4.6 billion dollar deficit. Florida will benefit from the presence of the convention, but Betta said they hoped to also capitalize on other election related events.

“By going early, the state seeks to gain from all the events that come before an early presidential primary,” she said.

Florida officials familiar with the planned talks expressed ambivalence about their usefulness. The sentiment is that the RNC cannot offer anything to Florida – if they can neither lift the penalties or change the rule, then they seem to have little to bargain with.

Furthermore, while this is clearly a pressing issue for the RNC, it falls much lower on Florida Republican’s to-do lists: the budget bill is set to come to the floor this week, and that is occupying everyone’s time in Tallahassee.