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Will Winner-Take-All Primary Attract Or Deter Republican Candidates?

Gov. Scott Walker is flirting with skipping the Florida primary.  Or is he?
Gateway Technical College via Flickr

Two Florida political heavyweights are keeping pace with the top tier of potential Republican presidential candidates according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday.  But one other front runner may sit out for the Florida primary campaign.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush and junior Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are in a five-way tie for the Republican nomination according to Quinnipiac University.  But with such a crowded field, the leading candidates are barely breaking into double digits, and there are two other candidates within four percentage points of the pack.  This kind of race is exactly what the Republican Party of Florida was looking to foster when it decided to award delegates from the state’s primary on a winner-take-all basis.  The idea is to draw in the candidates by making Florida a major prize in the nominating contest. 

But ironically it might be doing just the opposite. 

Speaking on the Laura Ingraham radio show this week, Wisconsin governor and fellow Quinnipiac front runner Scott Walker was coy about campaigning in Florida.

“Actually the neat thing about being around the country is if we chose to get ahead I don’t think there’s a state out there we wouldn’t play in,” Walker says.  “I mean other than maybe Florida, where Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are—listen, some of the polls, essentially tied—and they’re going to eat up a good amount of that financial advantage Bush is going to have.”

Kevin Wagner, a political scientist who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, doubts Walker will actually sit the Florida race out.  Florida is a major swing state in the general election, and Wagner says even if Walker didn’t win the state’s primary, he’d need a well-established campaign network if he got the nomination.  Instead, Wagner says Walker is playing the expectations game.

“With a pretty good strong third place showing, or something that’s approaching where Gov. Bush or Sen. Rubio are, he can say, ‘Look, that’s an amazing performance,’” Wagner says.  “Look how much better I did than anyone expected me to do.  That shows that I’m a strong candidate in the state, and that I’m a strong candidate nationally.”

Walker—like Bush—has yet to officially declare his candidacy.  But many political odds makers see it as only a matter of time.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.