The old adage is "better late than never," but when it comes to the Florida Republican primary, the saying might as well go "better early than unpunished."
The state commission that decides the date for Florida's primary presidential elections meets this Friday, and they are expected to choose January 31, 2012. The Republican National Committee bars all states but the traditional early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from having primaries earlier than March 6.
Florida's move, a blatant violation of the RNC's rule, could lead to a cascade of consequences affecting not just the Sunshine State, but the timeline for the entire country's Republican presidential primary season.
If Florida leapfrogs to the starting position on the primary calendar, the traditional early primary states would also have to reschedule for early January to maintain their influence and importance, inviting holidays spent away from families.
"If Florida decides to go in January, they blow the RNC planned calendar wide open and we'll be back to campaigning over the holidays as Iowa and New Hampshire hold their presidential caucus and primary in early January," Michigan National Committee member Saul Anuzis, who is on the RNC's presidential nominating schedule committee, told CNN.
New Hampshire has also vowed to remain the first primary, their traditional position.
“Florida’s effort to move into the early primary period not only hurts the process, by cutting into the type of vetting that we do so well here in New Hampshire, but it also hurts Florida, by costing them delegates and watering down that state’s impact,” House Speaker William O’Brien said in a statement. “Florida may dilute the value of their primary, but we certainly won’t allow their actions to minimize the New Hampshire Primary.”
An early primary would also invite sanctions against Florida — the committee could opt to allow only half of the state's delegates at the nominating convention in Tampa, Florida next August.
South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly predicted a confused stampede for earlier primaries if Florida doesn't budge.
"If Florida moves, it would create chaos," Connelly said. "The calendar would be so compressed that the states that are trying to more relevant, that I don't think it would do any good for them."
There are also murmurs of Colorado, Georgia and Missouri contemplating an early primary date. States are required to turn in their final dates by this Saturday, and most are expected to have made a decision by close of business Friday.
Creative Commons image via flickr user jugbo