Florida moved up its primary date to Jan. 31 today, breaking national party rules and setting off a domino effect that likely means the beginning of the GOP presidential nominating process will be in early January 2012.
In a 7-2 vote, the Florida Primary Selection Committee decided to move up its date.
The first domino fell in New Hampshire, traditionally the first primary in the nation, preceded only by Iowa’s caucuses.
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has unilateral control to set the Granite State’s date, moved up the presidential primary filing period to begin Oct. 17 and ending October 28, signaling the New Hampshire primary contest will be moved up in the calendar.
"Unfortunately, we'll be unable to have the upcoming presidential primary on the second Tuesday in March and will continue to honor the tradition of our first-in-the-nation presidential primary," Gardner told NBC News. "Because we cannot rule out of the possibility of conducting the primary before the end of this year, we are, regrettably, as we were four years ago, forced to move the presidential candidates filing period to October.”
Gardner watched the full Florida committee debate via a website in his Statehouse chambers and was visibly surprised as the members in the Sunshine State discussed going so early as Jan. 3rd.
"I don't know how I can be surprised by anything anymore,” said Gardner, who’s been setting the primary date since 1976, “so we will wait and see on the rest. We will continue to be first. … It is my intention to move the primary up so we preserve the tradition."
Gardner is watching South Carolina and Nevada closely and will set the date after they have announced.
South Carolina will also not be announcing its primary date today and probably won’t until next week, according to Matt Moore, the South Carolina GOP’s executive director.
South Carolina, along with the other carve-out states, will wait until all other non-carve-out states’ primaries are set before announcing its own, Moore said. And if New Hampshire is waiting until later in the fall, the same is true for the Palmetto State.
"We want to make sure that the four early states are playing from the same sheet of music," Moore told NBC.
Moore also said that party is not ruling out announcing a Tuesday election instead of a Saturday election. Connelly said yesterday that he was leaning toward holding the election the Saturday before Florida’s election (four days before), but Moore said holding the election on a Tuesday would be cheaper (no overtime costs for keeping schools, etc., open) and that having adequate time between their primary and Florida’s is a concern.
Iowa’s Republican Party Chairman says the Hawkeye State will wait on Gardner and New Hampshire.
"Only Secretary of State Gardner has that authority in New Hampshire,” Matt Strawn tells NBC News in an email. “Once he sets the date for New Hampshire's primary, Iowa will then act accordingly and set the date of our First in the Nation Caucuses."
*** UPDATE *** A South Carolina source says the four early states are working together, and they will likely announce their dates jointly. Gardner is in close contact with his counterpart in Nevada's, talking almost daily lately.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Here's the statement from the Florida GOP:
"Today, under the authority provided them by Florida statute and their selection by Governor Scott, Speaker Cannon and Senate President Haridopolos, the nine members of the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee chose January 31st as our state’s date. As I have said before, the Republican Party of Florida was always prepared to work with the date selected by those with the legal authority to do so. We appreciate that the Committee engaged in a thorough process. That process included discussion of a range of dates from January 3rd to March 6th or later, so this compromise of January 31st properly reflects the importance Florida will play on the national stage. We look forward to having a great primary, and then hosting a world-class convention for our party’s nominee. Florida will be the most important state in our efforts to defeat Barack Obama."
*** UPDATE 3 *** South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly condemned Florida's move:
"Today's decision by Florida is hugely disappointing and could have been avoided. Rogue states have once again dictated the Presidential nominating calendar. I call on my fellow RNC members and all Republicans to strongly condemn Florida's decision to hold their primary on January 31. States who have worked so hard to maintain the nominating calendar should not be penalized and the offenders, including Florida, should lose their entire allocations of delegates at the National Convention. Rules matter and the four traditional early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) did everything they could to avoid this unfortunate situation. South Carolina's primary date will not be announced today."