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New winner-take-all primary could be decisive either way for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio

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Lawmakers in both chambers went along with little friction this year as they passed leadership-supported bills to move back Florida’s presidential primaries, in order to take advantage of new national GOP rules allowing states to grant their delegates on a winner-take-all basis if they do so.

The logic was simple: whether it’s Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, apportioning all those delegates in one lump sum will help our home-state guy. But as Adam Wollner in National Journal asks: will it really?

“…the decision to move Florida deeper into the nominating contest ratchets up the pressure on Bush, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, to notch an early win elsewhere.

Now, if Bush were to stumble through the first four primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) next February, Florida won’t be there as an immediate safety net. In the past two elections, Florida’s primary came right after the first four so-called ‘carve-out’ states, but in 2016, the state’s primary will be held six weeks after the kickoff Iowa caucuses, an eternity in presidential politics.

‘If we’re mapping out this contest next year, it’s not that Florida is going to provide Bush with a significant lead so much as help him to catch up in areas across the country where it’s not traditional Bush territory,’ said Josh Putnam, an Appalachian State University professor who tracks changes to the primary calendar at his blog, FrontloadingHQ.”

While the benefits of those projected 99 national Republican delegates to be apportioned in one felt swoop are not lost on anyone tracking the race, how complicated things get between March 1 and March 15 is anyone’s guess.

“If Bush struggles in the traditional early-voting states, a portion of the next slate of contests will take place across the South, where a group of states is organizing a regional “SEC” primary on March 1. That could prove to be difficult terrain for Bush and provide time for another candidate in the vast field of Republican presidential hopefuls to collect delegates and gain momentum before Florida’s primary rolls around.

‘He has the resources to compete everywhere,’ veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins said of Bush. “He’s got to get a win or two, or at least a good place, before he gets to Florida. He’s got to show he’s not a single-state candidate.'”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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