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Battle brewing over Florida's 2012 presidential primary date

Battle lines are forming over whether or not Florida should continue to hold its presidential primary election weeks before other states, a plan opposed by national party leaders.

Two Democrats have filed bills to move the primary from Jan. 31 to March 6, reversing the 2008 course that caused the National Democratic Party to strip Florida of some of its delegates. Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, filed the measure and have the support of Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith. But Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, said he's not interested.

"I happen to think the position we're in right now is the correct one," Haridopolos said. "We're going to most likely decide the president of the United States and it would make most sense if we did it early in the process. I'm still open to discussion on it. The good news is we have the convention here in Florida."

But Gov. Rick Scott disagrees. "I want to have it as early as we can, but I don't want to lose any of the delegates," he said.

The intra-party divide has state GOP chairman Dave Bitner caught in the middle. His spokesman, Trey Stapleton, said that he and the party "would like to be in compliance with the RNC (Republican National Committee) rules, but also understand the desire for Florida to play a prominent role in the primary. The chairman is actively working to find a solution that might meet both needs."

Democrats, however, want the primary pushed back.

"It is our sincere hope that the Republican Legislature will pass the legislation from Sen. Joyner and Rep. Kiar and … ensure full representation of our state at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions," Smith said.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and legislators moved the 2008 primary to Jan. 29, leapfrogging states such as New York and California. It was set on the same day as South Carolina's Democratic primary. The date remained behind the traditionally early caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, and the New Hampshire primary. National Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus has already urged Bitner to move the date back.

Meanwhile, Haridopolos said he has invited several of the Republican presidential candidates to come to Tallahassee. "They've reached out to me. I've reached out to them. I think it'll be beneficial in Florida to find out some of their ideas because we face a multitude of problems in the state and if a person is seeking the presidency I think they should come to Florida and let us know what they think."

Haridopolos dismissed the significance of the turf war that resulted between national party leaders and Florida leaders after lawmakers moved up the 2008 primary. "I didn't see it as chaos. I thought it was great," he said. "I thought Florida was a player. Whether you read Game Change or David Plouffe's book, or others, Florida influenced in a huge way not just who won the presidency but who the nominee was."

Times/Herald staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report.

Battle brewing over Florida's 2012 presidential primary date 02/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:39pm]
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