Florida likely to hold Jan. 31 primary, throwing 2012 calendar in flux

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

Here's a little Christmas present from Florida.

State House Speaker Dean Cannon revealed to CNN Tuesday that officials are likely to choose Jan. 31 as the date for the state's 2012 presidential primary--in direct violation of Republican National Committee rules. Florida's decision will likely spur a land rush among other early voting states to move the timing of their own contests forward in an already front-loaded GOP primary schedule.

Cannon said the members of the state commission in charge of primary scheduling  "are expecting to meet on Friday from 11 to 12, and I expect that they will pick January 31 as Florida's primary date."

The move is part of Florida's plan to hold the fifth primary nominating contest of 2012. The state pulled off the same move in 2008 as it sought to move toward the front of the scrum of early primary states--even at the price of losing delegates at the 2008 nominating convention.

States outside the charmed circle of the four already designated early-voting states--Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina--who try to jump ahead of March 6 on the primary calendar risk penalties from the national party. But the example of Florida, at least, suggests that states are increasingly willing to barter away some influence at the convention in exchange for the clout and media attention that come with earlier primary votes.

Florida's decision will almost certainly prompt protests from the four early-voting states. And if those states retaliate by moving their own primaries forward in January, that could mean that Iowa and New Hampshire, which traditionally lead off the primary season, could be casting ballots in early January--and suffering through last-minute campaigning appeals over the December holidays.

And the Florida move could also spark a more general push of states that feel neglected or largely irrelevant to the nominating battle into a front-loading face-off. Since the primary field tends to quickly winnow, late-voting states risk hosting a far narrower field of candidates, or serving as rubber-stamp plebiscites in an already settled primary process.

Indeed, Arizona recently fired its own shot across the RNC's bow by electing to keep its primary date scheduled for Feb. 28 in defiance of the national committee's direction.

States are due to submit their proposed primary and caucus dates to the RNC this Saturday, October 1.