TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's GOP presidential primary will be a winner-take-all contest.
The Republican National Committee has signed off on a plan to award 50 delegates to the GOP presidential contender who comes in first during the Jan. 31 primary.
Florida is losing half of its delegates because it bucked RNC rules by moving the primary date before March 6. But the number of delegates the state will award will be almost as many as the number of delegates expected to be awarded by the states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The winner-take-all nature of Florida's primary - along with a decision by Nevada Republicans to push back the date of their caucus to Feb. 4 - could transform the primary to a make-or-break moment for those seeking the GOP nomination.
"My guess is that Florida is going to be the big kahuna," said Brad Coker, a Florida-based pollster for Mason-Dixon who conducts surveys nationwide in a September interview with the Associated Press.
Florida GOP officials have expressed similar sentiment.
"Clearly we are going to be an important contest, even more important that we initially thought," said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida.
The RNC signed off on the change days ago, but it was first reported on Monday by the Orlando Sentinel.
The national party approved the winner-take-all approach even though its rules had suggested that states that had early primaries would award delegates on a proportional basis based on how well candidates did in Congressional districts.
A special nine-member committee appointed by legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott voted last month to set the January date after top Republicans such as House Speaker Dean Cannon announced that's what it was expected to do.
Florida's decision triggered moves and denunciations by other states, but now the fourth-largest state in the nation will get 10 days in the national presidential campaign spotlight.
Four years ago, Florida held a late-January primary that played a key role in selecting Arizona Sen. John McCain as the Republican nominee. All major Democratic candidates, though, boycotted Florida because the early primary violated party rule.
But while top Republicans such as Cannon - and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio - have strongly supported an early primary, that enthusiasm has not been enjoyed by others in the party.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show that Republicans across the state, including those serving on the state executive committee, pleaded with Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to follow RNC rules and move the primary date back to March. Haridopolos was one of the leaders who appointed members to the panel that picked the Jan. 31 date.
"The Republican Party and its legislative leaders remind me of children who don't play by the rules but whine when they are penalized," wrote Carole Reid, a state committeewoman from Putnam County. "It is time for these leaders to understand that, as adults, we do not pick and choose rules and laws we wish to adhere to, but rather work to change those we disagree with."
RNC Chairman Reince Preibus appeared equally resentful of the state's move.
"There is no discretion. There is no coming back. There is no kumbaya that's going to happen. They're going to lose half of their delegates and that's a pretty serious penalty," Priebus said during an interview with ABC News.
Mark and Alison LaMons of Lakeland - and who are involved with the Lakeland Tea Party & 9-12 Project - wrote to Haridopolos and said that top Republicans were skewing the system.
"We do not appreciate living in a state, that on more than one occasion, has become a laughing stock as it pertains to elections," their email says. "But that is minor compared to the outright subversion of the will of the people. It is one thing to have the Democrats try to steal an election but to have our own party manipulate the system to advantage a particular candidate is unconscionable."
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