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  1. Florida Politics

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and winner-take-all delegates in Florida

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 20 pounds slimmer from adhering to the Paleo Diet, which is big on protein and nuts, jogs offstage after speaking at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Friday.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 20 pounds slimmer from adhering to the Paleo Diet, which is big on protein and nuts, jogs offstage after speaking at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Friday.
Published Mar. 1, 2015

It could be one of the great ironies of the 2016 presidential cycle that in a race where two * major Republican candidates, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, hail from Florida, the Sunshine State's GOP presidential primary could well be the most boring in more than a decade.

In January 2008, John McCain beat Mitt Romney in a high-profile Florida contest and then went on to win the nomination. In January 2012, Romney won Florida after crushing the threat from Newt Gingrich and then went on to win the nomination.

In 2016, however, most candidates will have little incentive to spend the money necessary to compete in Florida with Rubio or Bush on the ballot. That's especially true given that Republican leaders appear increasingly likely to schedule Florida's primary for March 15 and make it a winner-take-all race for delegates, rather than awarding delegates proportionally.

Capturing the nomination ultimately requires winning enough delegates, and Florida has about 99 delegates at stake. With a winner-take-all primary, a candidate like, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, could capture 48 percent of the vote and still walk away without a single delegate if Bush won 52 percent.

GOP leaders in the past two presidential contests set Florida's primary earlier than allowed by the national party to ensure America's biggest and most diverse battleground state had significant influence in picking the nominee. The Republican National Committee slashed Florida's delegate count as a penalty, but they don't want to risk it this year.

Under current state law, Florida's primary would be March 1 — the earliest possible date to avoid losing delegates — but the RNC has decreed that any primary contest before March 15 must award delegates proportionally. State lawmakers have filed bills moving the primary to March 15, a gift to any Florida favorite running in 2016.

"It is my personal belief that the primary process in the state of Florida should be winner takes all," state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, the recently elected state Republican chairman, told a gathering of young Republicans in Miami last week.

"We are the largest, most diverse swing state in the nation. We are the prize," said Ingoglia, arguing that if a candidate puts in the work to win Florida, then he or she should be rewarded in full. "It's sort of like a microcosm of the United States in general," he said. The person who can win here is "the person that we want to get behind."

* Two … or four?

Here's where we should note that there are actually four Floridians seen as 2016 Republican presidential contenders. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee now lives in Santa Rosa Beach and retired surgeon Ben Carson, another darling of conservative activists, has retired to West Palm Beach. And if you count Donald Trump, who spends a lot of time in Palm Beach even though he still votes in New York, you could argue Florida has 4 ½ presidential prospects.

His fighting weight

If this whole leader of the free world thing doesn't pan out, Jeb Bush might want to think about hawking weight loss tips.

It might not endear him to his financial supporters with Florida's Big Sugar industry, but Bush, 62, has been dutifully following the Paleo Diet, which calls for eating as early man did: lean meats, fruits, nuts, nonstarchy vegetables and no processed or refined foods. He's packing at least 20 fewer pounds than he was a year ago, though it's not clear whether he feels as good as he looks.

"I hope that you pray for my family, pray for me," Bush told supporters in Tallahassee recently. "Continue to pray that I stick on this Paleo diet where my pants fall down. Perpetually starving to death apparently is the source of losing weight."

Clinton insider's take

There are few people in Florida who have known Hillary Clinton longer than Tampa attorney Arthenia Joyner, the state Senate Democratic leader who met Clinton in 1988, and in 2008 argued her case to the DNC when the party was deciding on how to punish Florida for its early primary.

So how does she see a Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton matchup in Florida? Bush will have a lot of explaining to do about his school testing legacy, Joyner said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.

"He said when he was governor, don't judge him by one action, judge him by the totality of his actions. That's why we're in this testing quagmire now, because he created that. … those issues are going to come up and they're going to look back to Florida and see this is where it all started. The teachers and students have said also don't judge us by one action — a test."

Patricia Mazzei contributed to this week's Buzz.

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