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It's Official: Jan. 31 Selected for Primary

September 29, 2011 - 6:00pm

The national primary calendar scramble is on.

Floridas 67 supervisors of elections now have a date they can plan for the presidential primary: Jan. 31, 2012.

Floridas nine-member Presidential Preference Primary Committee, voting 7-2 on Friday, saying they were forced to move up the date of their primary by several other states and the need to maintain the state's voice in the selection process, formally set the last Saturday in January for Floridas primary.

The selection was no surprise, since lawmakers such as House Speaker Dean Cannon, who selected three to committee, had previously recommended the Jan. 31 date to make the state fifth on the primary schedule.

As we saw in 2008, Senator McCain won the nomination after winning the fifth state, which was Florida, said committee member Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami. That momentum catapulted him.

Committee member former Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican, said Florida needs to be near the head of the primary because of its size and diversity. Placing the primary at the end of January, he said, will keep campaigning away from the Christmas-New Year holiday season.

Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, and Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, opposed the change, saying the state should keep the primary March 6 to avoid the penalty of having half its delegates blocked from national conventions.

"What happens to our delegates when the convention is close?" Stafford said.

But a motion by Siplin, seconded by Stafford, to keep the March 6 date, failed 7-2.

Committee member Al Lawson, a Democrat and former state senator from Tallahassee, initially recommended Florida hold the primary Jan. 3, but the motion failed to pick up a second.

I dont think Florida needs to take a back seat to any state, said Lawson, who later supported the Jan. 31 date.

Florida and other states had been given until Oct. 1 to set primary dates.

The move is expected to force Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to reschedule their primaries and caucuses.

The Republican chairs for each of the four states on Thursday jointly issued a statement declaring they will move up their primary and caucus dates if other states jump them on the calendar.

The Republican and Democratic national parties had agreed that the four states would be the first on the calendar for primaries and caucuses. Other states that move up before March 6 face the possibility of having their number of delegates to the national conventions cut in half.

Currently, 14 states are scheduled to hold elections on March 6 and special rules have been set up to allow Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to go early.

However, Florida lawmakers noted that with states such as Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri and Michigan seeking to jump in front of the Sunshine State on the primary calendar, and with Florida wanting to retain its hold as the fifth primary, they were forced to make the change.

Florida lawmakers say remaining fifth gives the state more voice in selecting presidential candidates.

In addition to the committee appointments by Cannon, Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. President Mike Haridopolos each appointed three to the committee.

How they voted on moving the election from March 6 to Jan. 31:

Yes: Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Yes: Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

No: Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

Yes: Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.

Yes: Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.

No: Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami.

Yes: Former Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican.

Yes: Jenn Ungru, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Rick Scott.

Yes: Former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (850) 727-0859.

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