Friday, February 11, 2011

Florida Primary: Are Governor Scott and the GOP Leadership in the General Assembly Really "At Odds"?

In the wake of Democratic state legislators filing bills in the Florida General Assembly to move the Sunshine state's presidential primary from January back to March, there has been quite a bit of chatter in the Florida press about "battles brewing" and "lines forming" over when the primary should be held. The fight being portrayed, though, misses the point and actually mischaracterizes the parties involved.

The true dividing line on this issue is not, as it seems to be in some of the Florida press, an intra-party struggle within the Republican-controlled state government, but rather a inter-party battle between those same Republicans in control and the minority party Democrats without a contested presidential nomination race. There has been a fair amount of talk about the bills being offered by Democrats to move the primary back into compliance and about the Florida Democratic Party's chair calling for a later date.* But that angle has taken a backseat to the supposedly looming intra-party battle among Republicans.

Look, there may yet be a contentious debate over whether Florida should assert itself and maintain an early, non-compliant primary date or tow the national party line and move back. There are obvious pros and cons either way: go early and take a penalty (one that may not be enforced at the convention) or go later and with many other states and have less influence (while maintaining a full slate of delegates). But it isn't apparent to me that there either is or will definitely be a battle on this issue -- not during this legislative session at least.

Let's look a bit more closely at these "battle lines". First off, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate appears to be supportive of maintaining the January primary.

President of the Senate Mike Haridopolos: "I happen to think the position we're in right now is the correct one. We're going to most likely decide who the next president of the United States is. I think it'd make sense if we did it early in the process."

Speaker of the House Dean Cannon: "I think the earlier we are, the more relevant we are as a national voice. I think the members of the House will be reluctant to move it all the way forward. Again, I'm not taking any hard and fast position, but I certainly favoring [sic] leaving it early as a general principle."

There's some wiggle room there for both, but both seem to support the idea of leaving the presidential primary where it is.

What about the other side of this brewing showdown? Rick Scott has maintained a fairly consistent albeit ambiguous line. In the governor's comments after speaking with RNC chair, Reince Priebus, and in more recently, he has essentially said that Florida should go as early as it can without losing any delegates. That doesn't really tell us anything other than the governor is trying to tread the fine line between what the national party wants and what may be best on the state level (Florida influencing the ultimate identity of the Republican nominee.). In other words, I don't see Scott bringing any real pressure to the table to get legislators to do what the national party desires. Not at this time anyway.

I don't really see that happening in the future either. And I think that simply because this whole discussion of a brewing fight amongst Republicans in Florida on this issue ignores one concrete fact: the governor will likely stay out of the discussion in any direct way unless and until a bill to change the date of the primary lands on his desk. To the extent there will be a debate on this issue, it will take place in the legislature and the leadership seems inclined to potentially bottle these bills up in committee to keep the primary where it is.

Republican legislators may be gambling on this, but it is a calculated gamble. They are betting that, though the national party may complain about a non-compliant primary, they will eventually cave before the convention and reinstate all of the the delegates as they have done in the past. You will also hear some talk about Florida having to switch to a proportional allocation of delegates because of a change in Republican Party rules -- and I don't expect any fight there -- but that will happen whether they have a primary in January or March. The real issue is whether there will be a full Florida delegation in the event of a January primary. If Republicans in the state legislature do nothing and leave the primary where it is, they are operating under the assumption that the national party will yield to Florida in the interest of demonstrating national party unity to the American people at the Tampa convention. Any and all divisiveness will be tamped down or eliminated altogether.

So battle lines? What battle lines? If there are any, they are where they have been since Florida moved in 2007: between the state parties/governments and the national parties. That there is any imminent battle looming among Republicans in Florida has yet to manifest itself in any measurable way in my eyes.

*According to Rule 20.C.7 of the 2012 Democratic Delegate Selection Rules, the state party has make at least some effort to change the date through the legislature if it wants to have any chance of a waiver to hold an early primary or assistance from the national party in holding an alternate contest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last year, key Romney friend and ally and then FL GOP chair John Thrasher was spearheading the attempt to move the primary later, to be unpenalized. I assume because FL was the lynchpin and Romney's best, biggest states: CA, NY, FL were all looking to be hit with penalties: slate halving and proportional that would hurt him in a long race against a Huckabee or someone else stronger in the Midwest and South. But, since then, CA, cash-strapped has made moves toward June, insulating Romney from a bad calendar delegate-wise, while his overall strength as a candidate as indicated by a slew of polling has grown more tenuous so that he probably needs the early momentum from a win in FL (where he's relatively stronger; he's slipped less there than many places) more than he needs its delegates.