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Push grows for earlier primary

Bipartisan enthusiasm for a Florida 2008 presidential primary as early as Jan. 29 may trump the national parties' threats.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published January 12, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers said Thursday they want Florida's 2008 presidential primary pushed up to January to increase the state's political influence, despite possible retribution from the national Republican and Democratic parties.

Lawmakers said the state, with its size and diversity, deserves a more crucial role in selecting the presidential nominees. By the first week in March, when the primary is currently held, Florida is largely irrelevant because the nominees are already clear.

The proposal would move the primary to either a week after New Hampshire's contest, currently slated for Jan. 22, or to Feb. 5, whichever comes first.

With a primary on Jan. 29, Florida would share the stage with South Carolina. On Feb. 5, the contest would take place with eight other states'.

But the national Democratic and Republican parties have consistently opposed the idea. Some have said Florida's size makes it impossible for underdog candidates to raise enough money to compete at such an early stage.

The national parties could punish Florida for having its primary earlier than Feb. 5 by taking away half of their state parties' delegates to the nominating conventions. The Democratic National Committee also could decide that candidates who campaigned in Florida for a primary earlier than Feb. 5 should not get the state's delegates if they win, according to committee rules.

The bill's bipartisan backers said they don't care - they would rather pick the president than attend a perfunctory convention where the outcome is preordained.

"We know for sure that Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent the diversity of the United States of America," Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, told the House Ethics and Elections Committee Thursday. "We know the state of Florida does. We know that, as Florida goes, so the country goes."

Ring and Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who will sponsor the House bill, said their proposal has support in both chambers. And it is one of House Speaker Marco Rubio's "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," which is a centerpiece of his agenda.

The House elections chairman, Pat Patterson, R-DeLand, said he favors the proposal, while his Senate counterpart, Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, said lawmakers need to be very cautious and careful about the dates.

Rivera and Ring said it's unfair that candidates come to Florida to raise money and then spend it in states with earlier contests like Iowa and New Hampshire.

"Candidates are going to have to take Florida a little more seriously and not view it as just an ATM," said Mo Elleithee, a veteran of Democratic campaigns.