Huffpost Politics

Florida Primary Election 2012: State Broke Rules Again To Hold Early Contest

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MIAMI -- Florida broke the presidential primary rules – again – but officials figure it's worth a penalty for their state to maintain a relevant voice in nominating candidates for the White House.

When Florida voters choose their candidate for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, they'll do so as the fourth state in the process. The cost: half their delegates to the GOP convention.

"I'd much rather have a say in the nomination process as opposed to the coronation process," Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos said.

As it did in 2008, Florida went against the national parties this year and set the last Tuesday in January as its primary date. In response, officials in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina moved up their dates too.

The strategy paid off for Florida four years ago. Sen. John McCain carried the state and used the momentum from that victory to win the Republican nomination.

Florida could again play a pivotal role. With Rick Santorum barely winning the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney carrying New Hampshire and Newt Gingrich taking South Carolina, a victory in the winner-take-all contest for Florida's 50 delegates could change the course of the campaign.

Seeking more influence isn't anything new for Florida.

Hoping to share New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary date, the state set its 1972 primary for the second Tuesday in March. New Hampshire responded by moving up its election, but Florida's date remained in law until 2008.

At first, that still left Florida early in the nominating process. While several states held caucuses before the 1976 vote, Florida was the third state to choose delegates through a primary, following New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Florida chose the eventual nominees: Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Gerald Ford.

Then other states began moving up their primaries. Florida soon found itself irrelevant, holding its contest after the nominees essentially had been decided.

Republican legislative leaders and then-Gov. Charlie Crist decided to change that for the 2008 primaries, arguing that Florida is more diverse in population than other early voting states. It has large populations of Hispanic and black voters, a mix of Southerners and Northern transplants and large rural areas and major cities.

The national parties weren't happy. The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of all its delegates. After initially making frequent stops in Florida, the Democratic candidates agreed to boycott the state.

The Republican National Committee stripped Florida of half its delegates, which, given its size, still made it an important state to win. GOP candidates spent a lot of time talking about issues important to the state, including the restoration of the Everglades, Cuba policy, offshore drilling and property insurance issues.

While McCain was able to use Florida to build momentum, the same wasn't true for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her overwhelming victory over Barack Obama had an asterisk next to it – there were no delegates at stake and none of the candidates had campaigned here for months before the election. She unsuccessfully argued to have the delegates fully restored before finally conceding the race. Once it was clear Obama would be the nominee, the delegates were restored at his request.

For all the complaining about Florida moving its presidential primary, the state was the first to hold a primary. Ever.

In 1904, Florida elected delegates to a national party's nominating convention. And while they weren't bound to follow the results of the presidential preference primary, other states began taking up the idea.

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