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Iowa, South Carolina go to war over Florida primary

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos scoffed at “idle threats” and said the state will not jump ahead of the early primary holders.

COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos scoffed at “idle threats” and said the state will not jump ahead of the early primary holders.

It's on, baby.

Florida's insistence on an early presidential primary kicked up a storm Thursday from Republican officials in Iowa and South Carolina who are demanding the national party force the Sunshine State to pull back.

If not, GOP leaders in the two states say, Florida should lose the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos scoffed at "idle threats" and said the state has no intention of jumping ahead of the early primary holders, which also include New Hampshire and Nevada. By RNC rules, the four states are the only ones permitted to hold elections in February.

Florida's primary is currently scheduled for Jan. 31. No one expects that date to hold, but state Republicans seem determined to go by late February, even though it would violate party rules.

"We simply want to go fifth," Haridopolos said, adding that as the "ultimate swing state," Florida deserves a big say on picking the presidential nominee.

As for the convention, rest easy, Florida Republicans.

The Republican National Committee on Thursday afternoon declared, "The convention will be in Tampa."

But the tempest illustrates tensions surrounding the jockeying for prominence in the 2012 elections.

Florida caused a stir by leaping ahead in 2008 — paying with a boycott by Democratic candidates and loss of delegates in both parties — and prominent figures such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio want it to stay that way.

Even if Florida hangs behind, it threatens to overshadow other contests. To win the presidency, the Republican nominee will have to win Florida.

The squabble began with a letter from Karen Floyd, chairwoman of the South Carolina Republican Party, to the Republican National Committee.

"Simply put, if Florida does not respect the process by which our primary calendar was set, the RNC should not be bound to the process by which the convention site was selected," Floyd wrote. "If Florida refuses to move its primary date into compliance with RNC rules, I am respectfully requesting that the Committee convene a special task force to select a new site for the 2012 Convention outside the state of Florida."

That prompted a response from Matthew N. Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa:

"The contempt that Florida legislators hold not only for the RNC 2012 rules, but also for the RNC members who approved these rules, is astonishing. To reward this arrogance with our national convention is a great disservice to the Republican activists, donors and elected officials nationwide who support the RNC."

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon issued a response so terse that his fangs were showing.

"I look forward to meeting Chairman Floyd and Chairman Strawn in Tampa next summer," he said.

Despite the talk, Florida's Legislature has still not acted on the primary date. But Republicans hold a super-majority and are eager to exert their power onto the national stage, particularly with the convention on home turf.

Determined to give Florida more influence, the Legislature moved the 2008 primary from March to late January.

Under current law, the 2012 primary is set for Jan. 31, in violation of national GOP rules. Though it assured the convention would remain in Tampa, the RNC said, "We will enforce the rules agreed to by all states with respect to the primary and caucus calendar."

If Florida plays the rebel, it could lose half of its roughly 110 delegates, a prospect that infuriates many grass-roots activists. Democrats fret about a repeat of 2008, even though their primary will be less significant with President Barack Obama running for re-election. State Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith is urging Republicans to back up, "to ensure that the Sunshine State is fully represented at both parties' national conventions."

Rubio led the charge in 2008 and Thursday echoed sentiment that Florida deserves to be a player.

He "believes that if the national party or other state parties want to pay for Florida's elections, they can have them any day they want," spokesman Alex Burgos said.

"But as long as the voters of Florida are going to pay for this election, Sen. Rubio believes it should be on the most meaningful day possible."

Stay tuned, this fight is far from over. By mid afternoon, other states had issued their own salvos.

"The Republican Party is no place for outlaws," the Nevada GOP said.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Alex Leary can be reached at leary@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @learyspt.

Iowa, South Carolina go to war over Florida primary 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:57pm]
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