Florida looks to jump to the front of the primary pack in 2012

Tallahassee, FL – Florida is once again looking at an early presidential primary. Proponents for the date say the state deserves to be at the front because it's a must-win for Republicans and, because it has the fourth-largest population in the nation. But two years ago, that early primary cost both parties, Democrats more so than Republicans. This year, the roles are switched, with Republicans having more to lose. As Lynn Hatter reports, that party's leadership is split on the issue.

It's called front-loading. That's when a state wants to be at the front of the line when it comes to primaries, instead of the middle or the back. It can also be called line- jumping. And that's what Florida did in 2008 when it jumped to the front of the the states to hold its presidential primary. Now it wants to stay there, while both major parties are urging it to go back. Political scientist Carol Weissert with the LeRoy Collins Institute says there are benefits to cutting in line.

"If you think about part of the reason for front-loading, is you get to play a bigger role for the selection, that's true. But you get a lot of press attention, you get a lot of national news, and you get the press spending money in Florida. There's actually an economic development argument here, because it helps the economy."

As a result of line jumping both parties penalized Florida resulting in a loss of delegates in 2008. And, when Florida jumped the line, the traditional early primary states, like New Hamphshire and Ohio, jumped Florida- holding their primaries even earlier. The state also lost campaign time and money on the Democratic side- with no presidential nominees campaigning in the state.

"On the republican side, the candidates came to Florida, we had the primary..and in the end The Republican Party and the Democratic party gave back substantial number of delegates, so in the end it wasn't a, huge penalty, particularly on the Republican party, but it was on the Democratic party, so that's what happened in 2008."

But now, the roles are reversed. Democrats have their 2012 contender in President Barack Obama. Which means Republicans have to choose a challenger, and that choice will happen in Tampa. In order to avoid the line-jumping that occurred in 2008, both major parties have agreed on rules governing when states can hold their primaries. But as Florida Democratic Party Spokesman Eric Jotkoff points out, it's the delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa which are now on the line.

"Already we've seen the chair of the South Carolina Republican party has called for moving the convention outside the state of Florida, which leaders in the Tampa bay area worked so hard to get because of the economic impact. And now Mike Haridopolos and Dean Cannon, because of their stubbornness are putting that at risk. They need to ask themselves how long they're willing to play this game of chicken."

If you ask state Republicans what they're preferences are for a primary, some are for the earlier date, and some against. Senate President Mike Haridopolos says keeping it at the end of January is worth the risk.

"Florida is the most important state in the presidential election. I happen to think the position we're in is the correct one. We're most likely going to decide who the next president of the United States is, and I think it would make a lot of sense if we did it early in the process."

But other early-primary state's like South Carolina are threatening to try and move the Republican National Convention away from Tampa if Florida doesn't push it back. State Republican Party Chairman David Bitner says he isn't as concerned about that particular threat, but says the party is working to come up with a solution to satisfy Florida's desire for an early primary while staying within the rules.

"There has been meaningful discussion that has been going on. I just came from Washington to speak with the Chairman of the Republican National Committee because they're the ones that assess the penalties, and we're trying to find a solution where we can have an early primary and escape the penalties that 49 other states have said we're going to incur."

One way to escape those penalties would be to push the primary date back to early March, and two democratic lawmakers have filed legislation to do just that. But legislators who support the early primary say Florida, which is a swing-state, is just too important to be left at the back of the pack.