RNC strips VIP passes from Florida GOP delegation, but lets all delegates on floor

TAMPA

Florida's delegates to the Republican National Convention already knew they were being housed about as far away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum as possible, at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, as punishment for scheduling an early presidential primary in violation of national party rules.

Now there's additional good news and bad news for the Florida GOP.

The bad: The Republican National Committee won't back off cutting Florida's voting delegates from 99 to 50, and it will strip Florida of more than 160 guest passes. Nor will the Florida delegation have prime front row seats at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, as they often have had at prior conventions.

The good: Even though Florida will have only 50 voting delegates on the floor, the RNC will allow another 49 to join the delegation on the floor as "honored guests."

"Florida's delegate status is not going to be reinstated, they're going to lose an incredible amount of guest passes, their hotel is not going to be improved," RNC chairman Reince Priebus told the Times Tuesday. "But we will allow their nonvoting members of their delegation floor access"

Florida GOP chairman Lenny Curry, who has yet to release the names of Florida delegates because of uncertainty over their status, called it a big victory.

"I am pleased beyond belief. This is a win for the Florida delegation," Curry said. "We've said all along that we wanted everyone to be seated on the floor. I'm grinning ear-to-ear."

The national party had set a nominating schedule allowing only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to hold primaries and caucuses before March, and it promised to halve the delegates from any state that bucked the rules.

Republican leaders in Florida, however, decided that ensuring the country's biggest and most diverse battleground state has significant influence in picking the nominee was worth losing a few dozen delegates.

Florida scheduled its primary for Jan. 29, prompting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to move their primaries still earlier. Four years ago, Florida did the same thing and effectively paid the same price — all its delegates allowed on the floor but only half of them allowed to vote.

The slap on the wrist for a two-time RNC rule-breaker such as Florida is unlikely to deter states from busting the sanctioned primary schedule in the future.

"I've heard a number of RNC members say maybe, maybe we should just have no penalties,'' said Paul Senft, an RNC member from Polk County who opposed Florida's early primary and helped write the rules governing the calendar. "If they're not going to enforce the rules, why have them?"

Priebus, though, insisted Florida receive no leniency. He had looked at seating the nonvoting members off the floor, in an area called "the lower bowl" but concluded he did not want to give up those seats, which tend to go to top donors.

"At the end of the day I'm not willing to give up prime seating for our donors in the lower bowl so it was easier just to allow these (Florida) guests floor access," Priebus said in an interview.

Peppered later with questions from reporters at a Hillsborough GOP campaign office, Priebus insisted, "We gave them every possible penalty we could."

Earlier this year, Republican National Committee members from states that abided by the official calendar were livid about Florida's actions and determined that Florida not escape punishment.

Losing guest passes to the Tampa Bay Times Forum is more painful than it may sound. Those passes can be used to raise significant money or to reward top donors and activists.

"The Republican Party of Florida is going to make sure all Republicans have a great experience," Curry said. "I understand the RNC and the other states were upset about us moving the primary early . . . so this isn't gloating or jumping up and down, but this is a win for us and positive for Mitt Romney. And I appreciate chairman Priebus."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.

RNC strips VIP passes from Florida GOP delegation, but lets all delegates on floor 08/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 10:55am]

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