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Did Florida just quash a possible Chris Christie campaign?

By holding its presidential primary on Jan. 31, Florida bumps the whole nominating calendar forward. That means anyone still contemplating a 2012 bid (maybe Chris Christie or Sarah Palin) has a lot less time to pull together a credible campaign.

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A few other states have already jumped the gun by setting primaries or caucuses before March 6. Then on March 6 – Super Tuesday – Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Idaho, and Wyoming will hold their contests. The deadline for all states to report their plans to the Republican National Committee (RNC) is Oct. 1.

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But it’s already clear from all the jockeying that the Republican Party won’t get what it wants: an orderly calendar that allows the RNC-anointed early states to go early, but not so early that the candidates are forced to spend the holidays in Iowa and New Hampshire. So New Year’s in Des Moines it is likely to be. By going against the rules, Florida is inviting punishment – the loss of half its voting power at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Some non-Floridians had suggested taking the convention away from Florida, too, but that idea was rejected out of hand. First, it’s too late to change the location of the convention. And given Florida’s importance as the largest swing state in the general election, the GOP can hardly risk alienating Florida voters. Florida jumped the line in 2008 and held its primary early, and lost half its voting power at the GOP convention in St. Paul.

This time, the nine-member committee that decided Friday – by a vote of 7 to 2 – to hold Florida’s primary on Jan. 31 has clearly decided it’s worth the punishment. By having an early primary, the state virtually guarantees the candidates will lavish attention on it with ads and campaign visits.

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told the Associated Press that the committee, which he helped appoint, did not want to break party rules, but the members did want to make sure that Florida went fifth. When Florida broke the rules and went early four years ago, “the sky didn’t fall,” Speaker Cannon said.

In fact, in 2008, Florida proved to be a crucial primary after the first four contests. Arizona Sen. John McCain’s victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney effectively sealed the nomination for Senator McCain. There’s no guarantee Florida will decide the nominee in 2012, but its primary will clearly be influential.

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