All across Iowa, Republican candidates are trying to cram as much campaigning as possible into the days remaining before the Jan. 3 caucuses, all the while taking care not to get in the way of the voters' real lives during the holiday rush.
Why would Republicans schedule such a crucial event at such an inconvenient time? What sense does that make? The answer is: It doesn't make any sense, and it didn't have to be that way. And it wouldn't be, were it not for Florida.
The Iowa caucuses were originally scheduled to take place on Feb. 6, followed by New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Each state jealously guards its place in the schedule -- Iowa is the first caucus; New Hampshire, the first primary; South Carolina, first in the South, and Nevada, first in the West.
Having the race begin in earnest on Feb. 6 would have allowed Republicans plenty of time to campaign after all the holiday distractions. The other states would have followed in an orderly fashion, with Florida set for March.
But Florida Republicans worried that a fast-breaking Republican race might be decided by March, which would give Florida no role in selecting the GOP nominee. So Florida Gov. Rick Scott and a group of legislators decided to move Florida's primary to Jan. 31, ahead of Iowa and the rest of the pack.
The Floridians knew the move was against party rules, but as former Gov. Bob Martinez explained: "We're the biggest swing state in the Union." And the biggest swing state does what it wants.
The other states howled. Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn denounced Florida's "arrogance" and "petulant behavior." New Hampshire GOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald called the decision "a disservice to the political process." South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly called Florida a "rogue state."
No matter. "Florida will be crucial to the general election strategy, and we are the fourth-most populous state in the Union," says Florida GOP spokesman Brian Hughes. "What other states did to pack around the holidays and how candidates and their organizations choose to campaign are not things that Florida could decide."