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Fla. closer to first-in-the-nation debate, could cause trouble for GOP primary

A Florida lawmaker said Tuesday that a commission charged with finding a primary date for the state is likely to choose Jan. 31, 2012 — a move that would throw the existing nomination calendar into chaos.

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told CNN the group is expected to meet late Friday morning and that he expects the Jan. 31 date will be selected. All states have until Oct. 1 to provide their nomination calendar dates to the Republican National Committee, which approved the current calendar last year. Such a move by Florida would be a violation of calendar rules that could result in a loss of delegates to the national convention.

As of today, Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are slated for Feb. 6, 2012. New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary follows on Feb. 14. The Nevada caucus and South Carolina primary are the only others sanctioned to be held in February.

The Florida primary, which is tentatively set for Feb. 21, has long been seen as an issue for the four early states. But that date, although a violation of rules, would have allowed Iowa and the other three sanctioned starter states to perhaps keep the nomination process out of January. Floridians have stated repeatedly that they want to be, and will do what it takes to be, the fifth contest on the nominating calendar. To that end, it appears that rumbling by other states, such as Colorado, has the Florida commission rattled.

If Florida moves, it is a certainty that Iowa and New Hampshire will also move forward to protect their first-in-the-nation status. All four early states have pledged to move and work as a block. What remains unclear is how many states will then feel emboldened to violate RNC rules and fill the void of February.

The process for caucus and primary placement can vary by state. In New Hampshire, for instance, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has full authority to move the primary. In Iowa, the caucuses are considered a project of the political parties, and fall under the purview of each party’s State Central Committee.

In 2008, both state political parties worked in tandem to move the caucuses to Jan. 3. It was an important partnership because both parties needed to winnow the field for the later general election. While there is no doubt a partnership related to protecting and defending the Iowa caucuses remains, the largest burden for the 2012 contest falls on the Republican State Central Committee because Barack Obama is the presumptive nominee for Democrats.

It’s also worth noting that the extremely compressed 2008 calendar didn’t necessarily work in favor of those states who chose to move forward. Especially on the Democratic side of the aisle, it was the states that chose to keep the calendar dates assigned to them that seemingly had greater influence on nominee selection.

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