The Washington Post

Republican primary calendar comes into focus

Republican officials in Florida will decide on Friday whether to hold their primary in late January, a move that could cause the nominating process to start shortly after New Year’s Day.

Florida GOP leaders have indicated that they will set their primary for Jan. 31, leapfrogging the four states the Republican National Committee has permitted to go first. In doing so, the state will be forfeiting half its delegates to the party’s 2012 national convention, which is being held in Tampa.

Florida’s move will probably compel the four states slated to go first — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to move their contests up to remain at the front of the process.

Florida’s decision is not final, but state House Speaker Dean Cannon (R) said this week that having Florida go fifth is worth whatever punishment the party hands out.

“In the end, it’s far more important to me that the voters of Florida have their voices heard early than that we stringently comply with RNC rules,” Cannon said.

Republican leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire are rebuking the move, and South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly on Thursday called for the RNC to move the convention from Tampa.

“To me, that would be a strong-enough enforcement of the rules that would deter them from doing this and collapsing the calendar,” Connelly said on “ABC News.” “It will be chaos if they pick the date I’m hearing they’re going to pick.”

RNC officials said Thursday that they were still working with the states in hopes of avoiding such a situation. States have until Saturday to tell the RNC when they will hold their primaries and caucuses.

“We’re going to continue working with Florida and other states until the deadline on Oct. 1 to ensure they remain within the party rules,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

If Florida follows through and sets its primary for Jan. 31, it would probably create an oddly shaped and drawn-out process.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would probably shift forward a month, with Iowa going just after the New Year. After Florida, three or four states would hold caucuses on or around Feb. 7 — Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and possibly Missouri.

Then there would be a three-week gap until the next primaries, on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan, followed by caucuses in Washington state on March 3 and “Super Tuesday” on March 6, when eight states — Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia — are slated to hold their contests.

The RNC will strip half the delegates of any state that holds a primary before March 6, but states can hold caucuses before that date as long as delegates are not selected at them. That means Arizona and Michigan will join Florida in losing half their delegates at the 2012 convention.

So far, no other state has made a similar move — Georgia opted Thursday to go March 6 rather than in February — but there is still time.

Generally, states that want to increase their importance in the process would jump at the opportunity to hold their contest in mid-February, when they could have the attention of all the presidential candidates. But with the deadline to make that switch fast approaching and many states requiring legislative action to do so, that becomes more difficult.

“It’s getting very late for them to do that,” said former Republican National Committee member David Norcross, who drafted the rules to keep states from going early.

If no other state moves its contest up, Norcross and others close to the process said, candidates will be faced with a calendar that could make the Feb. 7 caucuses more important and then leave them three weeks without a contest.

Norcross also said the period after that would be pivotal.

“It gives the candidates three weeks to decide where they want to go and spend their time and money,” he said, “and gives a lot of states time to attract that attention.”

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Play Video
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.