Despite hour-long bus rides, Fla. GOP has no regrets about convention, early primary

By on August 31, 2012

After a week of hour-long trips to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, lost buses and the equivalent of exile for delegates, state officials at the Republican National Convention have made up their minds, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

They would do it all over again. And next time, they just might.

As punishment for moving the state’s presidential primary outside of the GOP’s official window — and helping to set off a calendar scramble that cascaded across the country — Florida Republicans were banished to the Innisbrook resort. The Innisbrook accommodations are nice — but they also happen to be in Palm Harbor, far away from downtown Tampa, where most of the convention-related action took place this week.

The location of the resort, shared with South Carolina after that state also changed its date to preserve its annual first-in-the-South status, was the butt of jokes all week long.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam quipped at a joint breakfast that the two states were “partners in primary purgatory.” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had one of the lines of the week when a heckler interrupted his speech to the Florida delegation breakfast: “Well, I guess he’s not happy with the hotel assignment.”

But if the national GOP’s objective was to make the state party’s leaders rethink their attempt to horn in on the early part of the primary calendar, the mission was not accomplished.

“I have no regrets whatsoever, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” said outgoing House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican who was one of the leaders in pushing for an early primary.

Republicans echo the arguments made when they pushed for an earlier primary at the beginning of the year: That by going Jan. 31, the state’s GOP voters won more than delegates lost and a lengthy bus ride to the conventional hall.

There’s little question that Florida helped provide former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with a shot of momentum after he split the three earliest prizes of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with his chief rivals. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania won the Hawkeye State, while former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich carried South Carolina.

An easy victory in Florida followed by another win in Nevada — which was originally supposed to vote before Florida — gave Romney the boost he needed to ride out the rest of the primary season.

“We nominated the person that can beat Barack Obama,” said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry. “I’d sleep in a sleeping bag here if I had to.”

Sen. John Thrasher, who was one of Romney’s first supporters and served on the committee who set the primary date, said it isn’t Florida that should be rethinking things.

“I still think Florida is such a diverse state, Florida is such an important state, that, frankly, I would hope that the national Republican party would take another look at their rules and allow some states like Florida to go early,” he said.

(Then again, Thrasher was not an official Florida delegate and didn’t stay at Innisbrook. “Where’s that?” he asked reporters who asked him about the resort where the delegation was exiled.)

And some delegates, at least, think it’s time for the state to undertake some retribution of its own.

“After these penalties,” tweeted Christian Camara, a lobbyist and delegate, “Fla should payback RNC by moving up its 2016 presidential primary to the day after Christmas 2015.”

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