Florida Primary Election 2012: Date Of Contest Set For Jan. 31

Florida's Republican presidential primary contest will be held on Jan. 31, 2012, instead of March 6. The scheduling change is likely to ruffle feathers among Republicans in other early primary states.

This week, as 2012 primary calendar watchers trained their gaze on the state of Florida -- where the deadline to decide the date of its presidential primary loomed -- it was anticipated that Florida would follow Arizona's lead and move its primary up the calendar, thus placing Florida in conflict with the traditional early primary states and threatening to throw the agreed-to primary schedule into complete chaos. Well, this morning, the zero hour was reached, and Florida has opted to unleash havoc.

According to the reports bubbling up on Twitter, by a 7-2 vote, the Florida GOP has selected Jan. 31 as the date of its primary. This move is in violation of both Republican National Committee guidelines and the mystic traditions handed down by the ancients that dictated that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina shall be forever entitled to be the first four contests in every presidential election cycle.

As Florida's decision contravenes the RNC's rules, the committee does have the option of issuing sanctions, such as stripping Florida of a portion of its delegates, denying the delegates perks like hotel space or convention floor passes, or decertifying them entirely.

But Florida's Republican officials believe they have sniffed out an opportunity of their own -- by moving to Jan. 31, they figure that once the aforementioned early primary states make corresponding moves to earlier dates, Florida will be left as the fifth primary of the season. And they're pretty sure that their primary will be a decisive one. With that opportunity on the horizon, it's likely they're looking past the notion that they'll be punished.

The early states are likely to raise a ruckus over Florida's decision and the leapfrogging could spark a stampede of election date changes. South Carolina GOP officials, already aggrieved by Arizona's decision to move its primary to the same day as their own, had previously sought the stripping of the Republican National Convention from Florida. There will be sternly worded statements coming from them shortly, as well as their counterparts in Iowa. New Hampshire has a state law mandating that the state have the first primary in the nation, so New Hampshire's forthcoming move is a fait accompli. As the Exeter, N.H., Patch reports today:

Former Congressional candidate Jennifer Horn of Nashua said she is disappointed at the actions of the Florida Legislature, because the existing process is a proven way to evaluate the candidates.

"I would have preferred Florida honored the calendar," she said. "But there's no question New Hampshire will be first -- it's non-negotiable."

Even Romney weighed in, during a brief press conference following his town hall meeting, saying he respects the existing process, and plans to continue focusing on New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.

"They'll be first," he said. "This is where I'll be."

Matching New Hampshire, officials in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada have already said that they will be moving their contests. When Chuck Todd gamed this out on MSNBC on Thursday, he anticipated that the Iowa caucuses -- the first contest of the season -- would be moved to Jan. 5, which is just unholy. But by the time this all shakes out, it could end up being worse. As CNN's Peter Hamby tweets this morning: "NH Sec of State does not rule out holding New Hampshire primary this year. As in, 2011."

Good grief. This means every campaign reporter is about to break some bad news to the family -- they'll be spending the holiday season freezing to death in Des Moines. But there's a larger implication for the field -- and for anyone still contemplating joining it: This means the time remaining to make a case for your campaign before voting starts and candidates face elimination just got shortened by a month at least. And if you're Chris Christie, Sarah Palin or even Rudy Giuliani, while your deadline to enter into the race remains the end of October, it's now getting to be too late to actually build a competent organization to support your candidacy.

More than anything else, the main thing Florida has done today is set the current field of candidates in stone. So if you want to run for president this year, you better think about making your announcement, say, tomorrow.

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