by Joe Figueroa
In his magnum opus role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean portrays a frustrated teenager who is fed up with his bickering parents and causes all sorts of commotion by acting out against all sorts of authority figures.
The Sunshine State can relate.
The G.O.P. establishment has quickly portrayed Florida as the disobedient child after its Legislature decided to move the Presidential Primary date up to January 31st, throwing off the party’s planned schedule and forcing the big four primary states at the beginning of the cycle-Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to move their primaries and caucuses into January as well.
With this move, Florida is flying in the face of a parental grounding of sorts. The Republican National Committee has promised to strip the state of half of its delegates at the National Convention next summer (being held in-you guessed it-Tampa), as well as threaten to move the delegation to the back of the Convention Center and away from the cameras.
This isn’t Florida’s first time defying the schedule either. In fact, the Legislature did the in 2008, and was penalized then too (along with a number of other states, including, most prominently, Michigan). This time around, everyone else seemingly played nice until Florida played the role of foil again. From the RNC headquarters to the secretaries of state in Des Moines and Concord, the discontent with Florida is palpable.
The move may seem irrational, but Florida sees itself as a vital player in the presidential nominating process. Florida Speaker of the House Dean Cannon was recently quoted as saying “”We…far and away are the largest electoral state that’s up for grabs. Florida belongs fifth.”
Florida has much more than size to back up its claim of importance. Since 1976, the two major early primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, have had mediocre track records when it comes to picking the eventual Republican nominee. Iowa has failed three times to pick the G.O.P. standard bearer, and New Hampshire has gone the wrong way twice. And both have some embarrassing missteps: Iowa picked Senator Bob Dole over Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988, and New Hampshire somehow favored Pat Buchanan over Dole in 1996.
Florida, on the other hand, is still pitching a perfect game. At the same time, the Sunshine State has picked the eventual G.O.P nominee correctly every time.
To be sure, by the time the Florida primary has come around, many of the candidates who participated in Iowa and New Hampshire have fallen by the wayside, and a favorite has often begun to run away with the nomination. But many of the primary campaigns were still quite contested by the time the Florida primary came around.
Florida’s importance is not lost on presidential candidates. Recall that in 2008, Rudy Giuliani basically conceded the big four early states and focused much of his resources on a “Florida-first” strategy hoping to stay afloat in Iowa and New Hampshire and then steal the momentum on January 29th, the Florida primary. The strategy failed spectacularly, ruining a once promising campaign. But while the result showed that you cannot overlook the momentum garnered by strong showings in the first few primaries, the strategy was a powerful statement on how important Florida is seen by strategists and candidates alike.
Florida’s influence on 2012 has already gone beyond its primary scheduling. The Florida straw poll in late September caused a great deal of stir in the lead up to the primaries. Rick Perry’s fall from grace after his mediocre debate performances was solidified by a disappointing 15 percent. Perhaps more significant, however, was the commanding 37 percent garnered by former also-ran Herman Cain, who doubled up Perry and ran away with the poll. Whether Cain can now establish himself as a legitimate candidate after previously being thought of as a lower tier candidate remains to be seen. But the Florida result has yet to fade: polls taken last week showed Cain surging past Perry nationally, and seriously competing with Romney; one poll even had Cain up 8 points.
One thing is for sure: Florida’s move has triggered a free-for-all in the statehouses of the first four primary states mentioned above. South Carolina quickly moved their primary up to January 21st, and Nevada switched their caucus to January 14th. The resulting shift has caused a snag in New Hampshire state law that requires its primary be at least a week before any other primary, and Nevada’s date would cause the Granite State to bump against Iowa’s January 3rd caucus date. If that’s not enough to overwhelm you, consider this: as a result, New Hampshire has threatened to move its primary into Early December. The state could be voting almost a full year before the general election.
And to think this all started with Florida. While they continue to hold a great deal of sway over the GOP primary process, to everyone else they simply appear to be a rebel without a cause.Joe Figueroa is a first-year student at William & Mary Law School. permalink: http://stateofelections.pages.wm.edu/2011/10/24/floridas-james-dean-movement/