Florida GOP More Likely to Play by Rules in 2016

Florida GOP More Likely to Play by Rules in 2016

By Scott Conroy - November 21, 2012

In the preliminary stages of the last two presidential campaigns, Florida has been an unrepentant troublemaker by thwarting both parties’ efforts to carve out nominating calendars that each had hoped would be sensible and orderly.

In both 2008 and 2012, Florida officials set January dates for the presidential primary, citing the state’s status as the nation’s biggest electoral battleground and its demographics mirroring the nation’s diversity; these facts, the officials asserted, were compelling reasons to ignore rules established by both national parties to prevent frontloaded primary contests.

The Democratic candidates in 2008 agreed not to even contest their party’s primaries in Florida and Michigan (another state that broke the rules by moving its primary up to January). But the situation was much messier on the GOP side, where the contenders for the Republican nomination fought as hard to win Florida as they did everywhere else.

As a result, the Republican National Committee penalized Florida twice by removing half of its convention delegates.

The RNC further emphasized its displeasure with the Sunshine State at the 2012 GOP convention by exiling the remaining 50 home-state delegates to a hotel 45 minutes from the Tampa venue and stripping them of prized guest passes to the big event.

Despite such personal indignities, Florida Republicans largely got what they wanted, as their primaries in both years were fiercely contested, closely watched, and ultimately became pivotal victories for eventual nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.

In this month’s post-election haze, state GOP officials remain focused on figuring out what went wrong on Nov. 6, when President Obama narrowly defeated Romney there.

Eventually, they will turn their attention to deciding whether they again will buck the national party’s rules, which currently state that March 1, 2016, is the earliest date any state other than the so-called “carve-outs” of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada may hold a primary or caucus.

So far, state Republicans say, signs point to them playing by the rules the next time around.

“I think there was probably more of a jump-the-gun interest in the past,” said longtime Florida Republican strategist Bret Doster, who helmed Romney’s campaign effort there.

Doster suggested that this year’s drawn-out race for the nomination has decreased the sense of urgency that prompted holding a January primary (though he noted that this sentiment could change over the next couple of years).

“What looks like may have happened . . . is [that] our days of potentially short primaries may be over,” he said.

No matter when Florida holds its primary, its prominent role in the 2016 GOP nominating fight appears secure.

The dust scarcely had settled on exit-polling data from the 2012 race when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Sen. Marco Rubio were being touted as two of the GOP’s best hopes for retaking the White House.

Bush has a strong stature within his home state and among Republicans nationally, and Rubio is almost universally regarded as one of the party’s brightest young stars.

If, as expected, at least one of these two men runs, the rest of the GOP field might not even contest the state.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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