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Florida seeks to move primary date, upending GOP calendar

By Peter Hamby, CNN
updated 2:39 AM EDT, Fri September 30, 2011
A Republican-appointed commission in Florida could turn the 2012 GOP presidential nominating calendar topsy-turvy Friday.
A Republican-appointed commission in Florida could turn the 2012 GOP presidential nominating calendar topsy-turvy Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Florida aims to move primary date to January 31
  • Traditional early states would then be forced to leapfrog their dates into early January
  • Republican leadership could penalize Florida by limiting delegates seated at convention
  • States must submit their primary and caucuses to the Republican National Committee by Saturday

(CNN) -- A Republican-appointed commission in Florida could turn the 2012 GOP presidential nominating calendar topsy-turvy Friday if it goes ahead with plans to shift the state's primary to January 31.

The move would flout Republican National Committee rules that forbid any state -- other than the first four early voting states -- from holding a contest before March 6, likely sparking a chain reaction as those states move their contests into January to protect their roles in the process.

Florida's representatives on the RNC approved the current calendar rules at a meeting last year.

But top Florida Republicans have since demanded that their state go fifth in the 2012 process, after the first four "carve out" states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

RNC officials had been hoping to allow the Sunshine State to move its contest to Feb. 21, which would still violate party rules but satisfy Florida's desire to go fifth.

Florida Republicans told CNN this week, however, that the prospect of states like Missouri and Colorado also holding caucus or primary contests in February forced their hand.

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A spokeswoman for the RNC said they were still working to keep the calendar intact.

"We're going to continue working with Florida and other states until the deadline on October 1st to ensure they remain within the Party rules," said spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "Any state that violates the rules will lose 50% of its delegates."

Florida Republicans, who want a primary date all to themselves, are not budging, even in the face of penalties from the RNC.

"Nothing has changed," said Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon. "I believe Jan. 31st is the right day for Florida and anticipate the committee making that date official."

Under committee rules, states in violation of the calendar can be stripped of half their delegates to next August's Republican National Convention in Tampa.

RNC members are also mulling stiffer penalties for rule-breaking states, like banishing those delegations to far away hotels in the Tampa area and giving their delegations the worst seats inside the convention hall.

A spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida brushed off the threats.

"If there is some process in 24 hours time that ensures Florida as fifth, then I think the commission could be swayed," said RPOF spokesman Brian Hughes. "But short of that, the Speaker's prediction seems accurate."

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn issued a joint statement Thursday with his counterparts from New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, promising to leap ahead of Florida and into January if the Florida commission moves ahead with its plan.

"The four sanctioned, early states have been very clear that we will move together, if necessary, to ensure order as outlined in RNC rules," Strawn said. "If we are forced to change our dates together, we will."

The first four states would also face penalties if they move from February into January, but South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly dared the RNC to punish his state if Florida triggers the chaos.

Connelly said he would wait until after Florida finalizes its primary date before naming South Carolina's date.

Georgia, which had flirted with moving up its primary date, decided to hold its primary on March 6, in compliance with committee calendar rules.

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