FL Presidential Primary Moving Up?

TALLAHASSEE -


House lawmakers are poised to approve a plan to move Florida's 2008 presidential primary from March to as early as January, with Republicans and Democrats in favor of making the state more relevant despite threats from the national parties.

During floor debate Thursday, lawmakers asked mainly informational questions that set the stage for a vote next week. The Senate, however, is still grappling with choosing a date and has not yet moved the bill out of committee. That chamber has discussed moving the primary to Feb. 19.

House lawmakers want the primary to be held Feb. 5, 2008, or seven days after New Hampshire holds its primary, whichever comes first. New Hampshire is waiting to schedule its primary to preserve its first-in-the-nation status, while national Democrats have recommended a Jan. 22 vote. If New Hampshire holds the primary on that date, Florida would vote on Jan. 29 - before other states, such as California, which are jockeying to move their election to Feb. 5.

Florida lawmakers believe the state, with its large, demographically and politically diverse population, should have a greater say in picking the presidential nominees. They believe doing so would force candidates to devote attention to Florida issues, such as the creation of a national catastrophic fund for hurricane damage.

The national parties, however, are trying to prevent a nationwide race for the earliest primary, and have threatened to take away some of the delegates the state parties send to the nominating conventions. Democratic Party rules could even punish candidates who campaign in states that move their primaries earlier than Feb. 5 by essentially not recognizing the state's delegates.

Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, the sponsor of the House bill, wants to call the parties' bluff. He also said choosing the nominee is more important than sending delegates to a convention where the nominee is already determined.

'Florida is used kind of as an ATM for presidential candidates election cycle after election cycle,' Rivera said. 'I think this will certainly make Florida more relevant.'

Likely to be one of the few no-votes, Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, said afterward he doesn't support the plan because it will quash candidates who can't afford big media markets like Florida in the early stages. He already feels that South Carolina's early primary provides diversity after the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

'You move up the primary now and you make it a straight money race,' Seiler said. 'You're going to need $100 million in the bank before you come out of 2007 and that's not good for democracy.'

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