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Fight Over Florida Early Primary More Important Than Most Realize

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Once again, Florida legislators are pushing to upend things by moving their state's presidential preference primaries up to the front of the pack among states. Imagine that! One of the largest states in the nation -- and one that may best represent the American electorate as a whole -- wants to be ahead of comparatively small states such as Iowa and South Carolina.

And how has that Iowa gig been working out for the GOP? Oh, that's right, they voted for Mike Huckabee in the last presidential nomination process. Now he's on TV, playing a banjo or whatever. And unless my memory is shot, I believe the Iowa GOP didn't even give the nod to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Don't misunderstand me. I like Iowa and the people I know there, and I certainly like South Carolina. But should we not all recognize that Florida has every right in the world to set its primary date whenever its elected officials so choose?

In my day I was very active in GOP politics, even at the national level. Let me assure you: One can't meet a bigger bunch of inside-baseball throat-cutters than partisan hacks that have, for the most part, never held office, but love to play "politics" as state party chairs or members of a national committee.

The Democrats basically kept Hillary Clinton from winning her party's nomination in 2008 simply by refusing to recognize her huge win in Florida. Had the delegates she won there counted -- later the party made accommodations for the Florida delegation, after Barack Obama was the clear winner -- Clinton would have jumped to the lead in the presidential nomination process and never looked back.

Even some strong conservatives feel that if there was no way to elect a Republican in '08, they would have felt more secure with Clinton as president than Obama.

In the end, Florida sealed the deal for John McCain in '08. It might have been a mistake for the party to have nominated him, but it reflected the mood of the GOP in that year. Currently it seems that Mitt Romney is best organized in the Sunshine State. Whether that will hold is anyone's guess. But regardless, shouldn't individual states be able to set the vote when they want it, rather than be slaves to party hacks or traditions that simply don't make sense years after they are formulated?

I wish we could return to a huge "Super Tuesday" that would take place early on. It would cut down on the expense of these campaigns and would quickly separate legitimate contenders from others who will be part of endless debates but have no relevance to the final outcome.

Now some GOP party-types are asking the national committee to consider moving the GOP's convention, scheduled for Tampa, to another state because Florida legislators had the nerve to suggest that a super-huge state might be a natural early testing ground for a presidential nominee.

Here's an interesting issue to consider when it comes to Iowa and its first-state status. Because it is a small state, the people of Iowa are dominated by their newspaper, The Des Moines Register. And the Register always conducts a poll just a few days before the vote. That poll is conducted by a pollster whose private client base tends to be both Democratic and liberal.

In 2008, she actually believed that huge numbers of new voters and independents would flood the Democratic primary. Based on that concept, she designed her poll to reflect more heavily the opinion of younger, first-time voters who were not traditional Democrats.

What happened after she released her poll is the same thing that happened in 2004. The frontrunner among the Democrats dropped in the polls, and the voters decided to validate the poll. There was just one problem: When they examined who actually turned out for the Democratic caucus in Iowa, the theory upon which the pollster based her poll proved to be wrong. The giant flood of newcomers to the Democratic caucus never occurred.

So here's the real question. Should a state dominated by one media market be the first test of viability in such a critical matter as nominating a candidate for president? Or should we let a state with so many large media markets, such as Florida, be among the first states to hold a contest?

It's really very simple: Should the next GOP nominee be decided by the Des Moines Register and its pollster? Fortunately for John McCain and Ronald Reagan, that didn't happen. But it could, and that's potentially dangerous.

Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. To find out more about Matt Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.



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