Governor signs early primary bill into law

Florida will be the most populous - and politically costly - state with a January date.

Published May 22, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH - Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill Monday that pushes the state's presidential primary up to Jan. 29, a move that could dramatically alter the candidates' strategies as they vie for votes in a state that is seen as a microcosm of the nation.

The state's primary, which had been scheduled for March, is now behind only the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and on the same day as South Carolina's Democratic primary.

Florida has by far the largest population of any January state and is the most expensive in which to campaign, giving well-funded candidates an even greater advantage and possibly drawing attention away from the smaller states.

"This is going to require the serious candidates to spend very, very large amounts of money and time in Florida, " said Merle Black, a politics professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "If you can't compete in Florida, that's going to be a sign that you're not a serious contender."

Florida's early election could also have implications in the Feb. 5 primaries scheduled in a dozen other states, including New York and California.

"The candidates who finish first in Florida would presumably be the strongest candidates the party could put up in the November election, " Black said. "And in building momentum for a campaign, the candidates that do well in Florida would get intense media coverage leading into the next week's events in early February."

Under both Republican and Democratic party rules, states are penalized for moving their primaries earlier than Feb. 5.

The Democratic National Committee said Florida would lose 50 percent of its delegates and all its super delegates. Also, any Democratic candidate who campaigns in Florida for a primary earlier than Feb. 5 will be ineligible for receiving any of the state's delegates.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said the committee was working out a separate plan with the state party, such as a caucus, to avoid penalties.

The Republican National Committee has warned it will strip 50 percent of Florida's delegates if the state's primary is moved.

"The rules are inflexible, and it doesn't matter who is running the RNC. Those rules will be enforced, " national party chairman and Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said Friday.

Party leaders say the rules are in place to keep states from leapfrogging over each other to gain a greater say in selecting a president.