It seems the Republican leadership in control in the Florida legislature is showing a bit more willingness to shift the Sunshine state's presidential primary back to some time in mid- to late February. It has been fairly clear as the discussions ramped up around the current, late January primary in Florida -- and the implications that held for the front end of the calendar overall -- that the leadership in the legislature was angling not to go first necessarily, but to carve out a position between Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and the other states lining up to hold contests on March 6.
Until this past week, though, there have not been any real alternatives discussed outside of the black and white, either you're compliant or you're not options. Democrats in the legislature had proposed bills (House, Senate) to move the primary to March and back into compliance while the Republican state legislative leadership (Senate President Haridopolos and House Speaker Cannon) maintained a consistent hard line on the January primary. That seems to have changed some this lately. First Cannon spokesperson, Katie Betta said:
Cannon would be willing to move the date, she said, but only to mid-February, which would still violate RNC rules.
And now Senator Haridopolos (via Tom Beaumont at The Des Moines Register):
"This is not a hostage situation. Our goal is not to go No. 1. We think that is historically
Iowa's," Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos said last week. "Our goal is to be in
a spot where we would have a real say in the primary process, not to move ahead of Iowa
or New Hampshire."
The deadline for new legislation in Florida passed last week without a bill to reschedule
the primary, set ahead of the 2008 campaign for late January. Haridopolos said he was
planning to introduce an amendment to existing legislation that would move the date to
mid- to late February.
I'll gloss over the statement that no legislation has been proposed -- it has (see above about Democratic-sponsored legislation) -- but what is becoming more evident is that the Republican leadership in the Florida legislature is straying ever so slightly from the previous hard line on the January primary. If a position for Florida is being made in mid- to late February period, though, there still remain some significant questions. Why Florida and not other states? Will Florida move before other states currently scheduled in February but with no legislation proposed yet (New York, Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan) to move their primaries or will those in the Sunshine state hold out for some sort of guarantee? [And then there's Georgia.]
To the first question, it is pretty clear that Florida has a pretty good argument about being a consequential state in both the primary and general election phase of the presidential race. Decision-makers there can stake a bigger claim to that than the four inactive primary states listed above. The second question is trickier with which to deal. There is no guarantee the national parties can offer Florida and the situation is complicated by the fact that Florida's legislature will conclude its business in May while those other states will have options after that point, whether by state legislature (New York, Wisconsin and Michigan) or other means (Arizona and Georgia). The other question that is a byproduct of this discussion is if Florida will be able to avoid sanctions from the RNC (or the DNC for that matter) if it settles in on a mid- to late February date for its primary. That may be as close to a guarantee that Florida can get should other states stick with their current February positions: that those states would be penalized while Florida would not.
But is that enough to get Florida to shift back its primary date? The legislature in Florida will give us some indication of that when House and Senate committees there begin considering and marking up the two bills concerning presidential primary timing that have been proposed.