Is Fla finish line or pit stop in prez primary?
Florida all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination for John McCain in January 2008 and state leaders set a similarly early primary for 2012 with the goal of again ensuring outsized influence for Sunshine State Republicans.
But political experts increasingly see Florida's Jan. 31 primary as likely a pit stop on a long journey to the nomination rather than the finish line.
That could mean a long, bruising intra-party fight before the GOP turns its focus on President Barack Obama, and it could give a leg up to Mitt Romney. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged ahead of Romney in many polls, but Romney at this point has the resources and campaign organization best equipped for a protracted campaign in state after state.
"I definitely think it will go well beyond Florida's primary,'' said Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Sharon Day of Broward County. "Just look at the way the race keeps changing."
"For the first time I'm thinking that is possible,'' said veteran campaign strategist Sally Bradshaw, who previously expected a Florida campaign featuring three or more serious candidates but increasingly sees a Gingrich versus Romney race. "If it's a three-person race, you need a lot less of the vote to be the winner,'' she said. "In a two-man race it can be a much closer contest. . . . If there's not a decisive win in Florida, that means the contest probably continues on after Florida."
An elongated primary season could actually wind up diminishing Florida's significance in picking the nominee.