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Steve Bousquet: Florida already flexing 2012 election-year muscle

Test your working knowledge of the 2012 presidential race with three simple questions.

In which state's straw poll did long-shot Republican Herman Cain recently win with 37 percent, vaulting him to national prominence?

In which state did Texas Gov. Rick Perry stumble and lose momentum with embarrassing flubs in a nationally televised debate?

And which state set off a furor by setting aside the agreed-upon calendar rules, deciding to hold its presidential primary in January?

The answers, of course, are Florida, Florida and Florida.

Amid all the punditry of how our state "could" or "will" or "is expected to" play a critical role in the 2012 race for the White House, it should be recognized that it already is.

With 29 electoral votes, Florida is the biggest state that's not a lock for either party in a presidential race.

Previous elections made "the I-4 corridor" a household term in national politics (as well as dimpled chads and the butterfly ballot, but that's another story).

The latest muscle-flexing by Florida is the decision by Republican leaders to manipulate the political calendar and schedule the state's presidential primary on Jan. 31, 2012, following Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Republican activists are loudly complaining, and the GOP's national hierarchy says this act of defiance will cost Florida half of its 99 delegates and camera-friendly floor seating at the party's 2012 convention in Tampa.

"Florida is the most economically, demographically and geographically diverse state in the country," said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who led the charge for the Jan. 31 date. "We also far and away are the largest electoral state that's up for grabs. Florida belongs fifth."

As some media outlets have noted, the decision to move up the state's primary may have influenced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision not to run.

That's because it greatly shortened the window of time for him to construct a campaign organization and raise the tens of millions of dollars needed to be viewed as a viable contender.

With this crowded and unsettled field of Republican contenders, it remains to be seen whether Florida will be a kingmaker in 2012 as it was in 2008 for John McCain.

But the state is a big player in other ways as well.

The most talked-about name for a Republican vice presidential candidate is Florida's junior U.S. senator, Marco Rubio (who says he won't do it).

The Democratic opposition's omnipresent media voice belongs to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is serving as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The Republican convention will be in Tampa next summer, making it the first time since 1972 that either party holds its nominating event in the Sunshine State.

(Both the Republican and Democratic national conventions were in Miami Beach that year. Democrats nominated George McGovern, and the Republicans renominated President Richard Nixon.)

And on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will hit the road for a pair of fundraisers. In which state, you ask?

Take a wild guess.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Steve Bousquet: Florida already flexing 2012 election-year muscle 10/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 7:50pm]
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