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Committee formalizes Jan. 31 as Florida's primary date

Florida agreed to withstand party penalties and formally shook up the primary calendar Friday, officially setting Florida's presidential primary date for Jan. 31.

The 7-2 vote from the Presidential Preference Primary Committee  rejected a Democratic motion to set the date for Super Tuesday,  March 6, and accepted a plan to make Florida's primary on the last Tuesday in January. The committee is comprised of six Republicans and three Democrats.

"Florida has more voters than all of those states combined and has an incredible amount of diversity. It is a reflection of the national interest and Florida ought to be an early state,'' said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Voting against the motion were Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, and Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Democrat. Story here

Siplin and Stafford both supported a failed motion to set Florida's primary date for March 6, the Super Tuesday date set by 14 other states. He said that many Florida Democrats support that date because they waht their delegates to be counted at the national convention.

Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera, the House Republican Leader from Miami countered. "The conventions have become nothing more than a coronation of the de facto nominee that has been determined by the states,'' he said. He said that the last time the parties didn't choose a nominee on the first ballot was in 1948 for Republicans and 1952 for Democrats. He noted that in 2008, Sen. John McCain's nomination was "a formality."

"As they win these early primary states, their momentum grows or their fundraising grows and it becomes a de facto lead,'' he said. "By the time you get to the convention everything is already decided. We want Florida's votes heard and heard early -- early enough where it's still impactful of the process and late enough where you respect the traditional early primary states."

The other Democrat on the panel, former Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee initially moved to set Jan. 3 as the primary date, arguing that the Florida shouldn't have to "take a back seat to any state. We are a mega state.'' he said.  He withdrew the motion.

Lopez Cantera noted that when Florida bucked the party and set its primary date for Jan. 31 in 2008, Republican voters participation soared from 19 percent to almost 50 percent. "Since our taxpayers are pyaing for this election, it's important for them to get as much bang for the buck as possible," he said.

Former Gov. Bob Martinez seconded the Lopez Cantera motion for the Jan. 31 date. "We're the biggest swing state in the nation,'' he said, noting that Florida has 10 more electoral votes than Ohio. "Florida is a closed primary state. Most states coming before us are either open or they are caucus...It will be the best indcator as to how well you will run as a Republican or a Democrat."

They agreed that it was undetermined how many party delegates would be lost as a result of the decision.

Rep. Seth McKeel said that "tickets to the convention" should not "deter the voices of the people in our state." He said that waiting until March would mute the impact of Florida's voters.

Lawson said he agreed "Florida needs to be a player" because of the financial impact the primary will have on the state of Florida. "It is more important for states such as Florida to not be on the back end but to be on the front end of these primaries," he said.

Sen. Rene Garcia said he believes we should respect the traditional early primary states but Florida "should take an active role in the presidential primary selection."

Stafford asked what happens if the delegates are needed and a race is close when it comes to the convention.

Lopez Cantera dismissed criticism from Republican National Committee officials, including Florida's Paul Senft, who worry that the state will be embarrassed if its loss of delegates will result in reducing its ability to influence the selection of the nomintee.

"I am not concerned about the loss of delegates. I believe the nominee will not be decided by them, '' Lopez Cantera said. He said he respects Senft and the RNC but his duty is the Florida voters. "They are the ones paying for this election -- costs upwards of $40 million. If the Republicans want to pay for this election then we'll pick whatever day they want but as along as the voters pay for this election, then it is my constitutional duty to make their impact as great as possible."

He said that if other states hadn't moved their primaries early, Florida would not have been "boxed in" and forced to move up its date. He said he has not spoken to any RNC members except for Senft.

"I want to make it very clear out intentions of being fifth have been public for months,'' he said. "These four or five other states that moved their dates recently they just did it. We have been trying to work things out. We created this committee to get to a more amicable agreement with all parties...

"The narrative that is going to come out of this will probably be about Florida but it really should be about the other states -- Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona. When they moved their dates they kind of cornered us into this date based on our fully transparent intentions of being fifth in the country."