By Ed Tibbetts
Florida’s decision to change its primary date to Jan. 31 is an act of “arrogance,” the Iowa Republican Party chairman said Friday, reacting to the Sunshine State’s formal declaration that it’s moving its primary date up in contravention of party rules.
Florida’s decision, as well as the prospect of the four early states moving up their dates, also sets up yet another consequence: In addition to Florida, the other early states also would lose half their delegates to the party’s national convention next year.
All but Iowa, that is.
Florida’s ratification of its decision to move its primary date has set off calendar chaos in the presidential nominating scheme.
The change will squeeze the race into an even shorter time frame, and it will push the Iowa caucuses closer to New Year’s Day. Two possible dates that have been mentioned are Jan. 5 and 9.
It appears it will be at least next week, however, before new dates are set.
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner said earlier this week he wouldn’t set a date for the first-in-the-nation primary this week. And Friday, he raised the prospect that the state’s primary could take place yet this year, saying it couldn’t be ruled out.
In his statement Friday, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn said the Iowa GOP would wait on its date until New Hampshire acts.
The Republican National Committee had told states to have their dates by the end of the week, but there is a process for granting waivers.
“Regarding the timing of the First in the Nation Iowa Caucuses, Iowa will remain first,” Strawn said in his statement. “Consistent with tradition, the final Iowa Caucus date will be announced once New Hampshire sets the date of its First in the Nation Primary.”
Strawn had harsh words for the Floridians, who also moved up their primary date in 2008.
“The arrogance shown by Florida’s elected leadership is disappointing, but not surprising,” Strawn said. “Equally troubling is to see this petulant behavior rewarded with our national convention. The consequences of Florida’s intransigence must be swift and severe, including the refusal by the RNC to credential or seat any member of Florida’s presidential primary date commission at the 2012 RNC convention in Tampa.”
Senior RNC officials told reporters Friday they intend to enforce their rules, which entail penalizing states that put their primaries and caucuses too early. Those states will lose half their delegates.
The RNC rules prohibit any state — except for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — from holding events that pledge delegates before March 6.
But New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina also face the same penalty if they hold their events before Feb. 1, according to RNC rules. And the party officials said Friday they would enforce their rules evenly.
Iowa wouldn’t be penalized even if it moves its precinct caucuses up from the currently scheduled Feb. 6. That’s because the state doesn’t bind its delegates then.
This will be the second consecutive presidential cycle that Iowa’s caucuses have been pushed closer to the New Year’s holiday, and the effects will reverberate through the field.
“It probably benefits those who have the momentum today because it’s a shorter track now to turn it around,” said Brian Kennedy, who’s leading Mitt Romney’s Iowa campaign.
Steve Grubbs, a political consultant from Davenport and former chairman of the state GOP who’s unaffiliated, predicted whoever’s leading in Iowa as of Dec. 15 will likely win the caucuses.
“The guy that’s in front Dec. 15 is very difficult to dislodge come the first week of January,” Grubbs said. With the holidays, he said, it would be difficult for a trailing candidate to break through.
Eric Woolson, a spokesman for presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and a veteran of Iowa politics, said he didn’t see the earlier Iowa date as giving anyone an advantage. “Everybody has the same number of days to get their work done,” he said.
And he suggested that the advantage of richer candidates might be blunted because the caucuses would follow more closely the holidays, when political advertising usually takes a hiatus.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said Thursday on Fox News that the changes will benefit former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry overall. Perry and Romney are leading in the polls, and Santorum said the changes would shave a month off the calendar, compressing the entire race.
“By moving up the calendar, you help the favorites,” he told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren.
How the compressed calendar would affect Iowa’s influence on the race isn’t clear.
Strawn told Radio Iowa this week, “Florida’s move only elevates the importance of Iowa and the other early states because a compressed calendar makes doing well in Iowa a necessity for a Republican candidate who wants to secure the nomination.”
But that’s an influence that goes only so far, according to a poll of Republican insiders selected by National Journal. The publication said Thursday its GOP insiders ranked Florida most important in picking the GOP nominee, followed by New Hampshire, South Carolina, then Iowa.
Traditionally, the Iowa caucuses have winnowed the presidential field, but in recent years, with a more compressed calendar, it has in some cases become more influential in picking the winner.