Why are GOP legislators rushing to move the Florida Presidential Primary?

187px-Jeb_Bush_2013_CPAC_by_Gage_Skidmore1Two words – Jeb Bush.

On Monday, legislators rushed through the House Ethics and Elections Committee a measure that would move Florida’s Presidential Primary back to March 2016 from its current late January date. The Senate passed a similar measure quickly through committee.

For years, the Florida Primary was a critical moment in the nomination process. In 1972, George Wallace carried 66 counties in the Democratic Primary running a platform against school busing – Incumbent Republican Richard Nixon took note of Wallace’s success using the race card (albeit more subtly than he had done in 1968)  and took the lessons of Florida to set the tone for the fall. In 1976, Jimmy Carter’s close shave Florida win over Wallace set him for the nomination while Ronald Reagan stayed alive in the GOP contest against President Gerald Ford with a shocking Florida victory.

But in 1980’s and 1990’s as Florida grew into a mega-state the primary waned in importance due to the timing of the election. In 2007, legislators attempted to remedy this by moving Florida’s primary date up but in the process violated the rules of the Democratic Party and partially violated Republican rules by encroaching on the exclusive window of four states slated for January contests.

Now legislators are ready to move Florida’s primary back to a strategic time. In 2012, the Republicans sought a longer, more thorough nominating process debunking the 1992-2008 logic which was to get the primaries over as quickly as possible. Now the conventional wisdom is to have a longer, drawn out process to generate enthusiasm.

So legislators have determined that helping Jeb Bush in March makes sense – it does for sure and while I have been critical of the GOP in this state using the levers of power to benefit their own time and again, this is the type of move state’s make all the time if a favorite son is running for President. It makes sense from a Florida Republican perspective to create some additional Bush momentum after clearing Iowa and New Hampshire, entering a stretch of primaries in the South and Midwest that can benefit the former Republican Governor.

In theory these machinations could help Marco Rubio if he is still in the race and Bush is not at the beginning of March 2016. But let’s not kid ourselves, Rubio will be back in the US Senate race by that time, after finding a way to go back on his claims that he wouldn’t run for re-election if he sought the Presidency.

We will keep track of this issue as session unfolds.


  1. Bruce Borkosky · ·

    I think it was NPR that said the penalty to going early this year was a loss of “almost all” delegates. That would have effectively eliminated FL from the nomination process, and could have cost Bush the nomination. Clearly that would not fly, so they went for the first legal date.



      I touched on the legality issue in the piece but moving it means they steer clear of any potential battle over that and preserve the delegates for Jeb.


    2. Current statute provides for ‘the earliest date possible without incurring a penalty,’ which would be March 1st.

      This move goes above and beyond that, to take advantage of a new RNC provision by which you can apportion all of your delegates to the winner, but only if you have the primary after March 14th.

      This move was not simply about remaining in compliance, it goes further.


      1. Yep, excellent point Ryan, thanks!


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