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Nomination math may see GOP presidential candidates skip Florida primary

in 2017/Top Headlines by

As everybody chasing the White House knows, Florida’s 29 electoral votes may well decide the whole ballgame next November.

But, S.V. Dáte writes in National Journal, the same cannot be said for its 99 Republican primary delegates, where the path to victory will likely go through elsewhere. The high cost of advertising statewide, Florida’s diffuse political geography, and new rules passed by the state GOP may lead candidates to forego campaigning in the state altogether.

Writes Dáte:

…[T]his time around, the Flor­ida party de­cided to ditch a sys­tem that div­vied [delegates] up pro­por­tion­ally and in­stead ad­opt a win­ner-take-all mod­el. The de­cision was made, in part, to make the primary more cru­cial and win the state a lar­ger share of pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates’ at­ten­tion.

In­stead, it may now be more likely that cam­paigns will write it off en­tirely.

“There’s a fi­nite amount of money,” said Priscilla Gran­nis, the vice chair of the Col­li­er County Re­pub­lic­an Party. “It’s a simple mat­ter of math­em­at­ics.”

Cam­paign­ing statewide in Flor­ida is both unwieldy and expensive. The state stretches 832 miles from Pensa­cola to Key West and in­cludes 67 counties, mak­ing an ef­fect­ive voter-turnout op­er­a­tion a lo­gist­ic­al night­mare. The state also has 10 dif­fer­ent me­dia mar­kets, mean­ing that a ser­i­ous TV ad cam­paign costs nearly $2 mil­lion a week.

The win­ner-take-all rule means that un­less a cam­paign has a reas­on­able chance of com­ing in first in the bal­lot­ing, every dol­lar and every hour of staff time spent on Flor­ida will likely go to waste.

“The the­ory with the [state party] was they thought it would draw people here and make people try harder. But maybe it will make people shy away,” said Jonath­an Mar­tin, the chair­man of Fort My­ers’s Lee County Re­pub­lic­an Party. “That’s what I would think, and that’s com­mon sense.”

The Republican Party of Florida does have one success to boast about this week, as all 14 remaining GOP presidential candidates are scheduled to appear at their Sunshine Summit in Orlando.

But the attention may be short-lived, writes Dáte, as many observers believe Florida Republicans’ high-stakes primary rules might backfire.

That the can­did­ates are even com­ing to Flor­ida this week is the res­ult of a dif­fer­ent rule ad­op­ted by the state party earli­er this year: To make the Flor­ida bal­lot in March, can­did­ates could either pay $25,000, find vo­lun­teers to col­lect at least 125 Re­pub­lic­an sig­na­tures in each of the state’s 27 con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts, or show up at the so-called Sun­shine Sum­mit. All 14 of the re­main­ing can­did­ates de­cided to show up. Sev­en are sched­uled to speak Fri­day, sev­en on Sat­urday.

But as to mak­ing a ser­i­ous fin­an­cial com­mit­ment to win­ning the Flor­ida primary, only [Jeb] Bush, the former two-term gov­ernor, has a sig­ni­fic­ant staff pres­ence in the state, with his na­tion­al headquar­ters and a sep­ar­ate field of­fice in Miami plus a state headquar­ters in Tampa. Celebrity busi­ness­man Don­ald Trump only this month opened a field of­fice in Sara­sota. Marco Ru­bio, the state’s ju­ni­or sen­at­or, has his na­tion­al headquar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., but no cam­paign of­fices in Flor­ida.

How much this sen­ti­ment will ul­ti­mately mat­ter, of course, is even less clear. By the time Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­ans go to the polls on March 15, four states will have voted in Feb­ru­ary and nearly a dozen more on March 1. A field that cur­rently in­cludes 14 Re­pub­lic­ans will al­most have cer­tainly shrunk, as money dries up for all but the best-fun­ded cam­paigns. Even more im­port­ant, Flor­ida voters have his­tor­ic­ally taken their cues from voters in the earli­er states.

As Florida statehouse watchers and White House prognosticators alike both know all too well, this is not the first time the state has attempted to shake up the nominating process. The results have been hit-or-miss.

This is the first time in three pres­id­en­tial elec­tions that Flor­ida has not cre­ated chaos in the primary cal­en­dar by in­sist­ing on a Janu­ary elec­tion date. In 2008, then-state House Speak­er Marco Ru­bio and Gov. Charlie Crist ar­gued that Flor­ida’s size and di­verse pop­u­la­tion made it a bet­ter mi­cro­cosm of the coun­try as a whole than Iowa or New Hamp­shire, and they pushed through a law set­ting a Jan. 29 primary. The tra­di­tion­al early states then moved their elec­tions ahead to re­tain their re­spect­ive po­s­i­tions. The same thing happened in 2012.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee re­spon­ded in both years by strip­ping Flor­ida of half of its del­eg­ates. This time around, a new RNC rule would have taken away all of Flor­ida’s del­eg­ates if it jumped ahead in the cal­en­dar, and the state re­spon­ded by mov­ing its primary to March 15, the first day that the RNC al­lows a win­ner-take-all con­test.

 

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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