POLITICS

House speaker says Fla. primary likely Jan. 31

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida is poised to hold its presidential primary on Jan. 31, a move that likely would mean an earlier start to the GOP nominating contests than what the national Republican Party had planned.

House Speaker Dean Cannon on Wednesday said that was the likely date for the Florida primary as the state works to ensure that it's the fifth state to vote behind the four that are the first to traditionally hold presidential primaries or caucuses - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

The Republican said scheduling the primary for the last day of January would make Florida a major player in deciding the GOP nominee without jumping in front of those four states. He said Florida's hand was forced by other states that have moved up their dates, including Missouri, which has set its primary for Feb. 7.

"It's not a done deal," Cannon said in a telephone interview. He noted that the tentative date could change if states other than the first four try to jump or match Florida.

Cannon said he has been consulting with Republican Party officials and the offices of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott spokeswoman Karen Smith declined comment.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have promised to protect their early voting status by moving their contests to earlier in the year if needed.

A special committee will meet Friday to formally select Florida's date. The eight voting members were selected by the two legislative leaders and Scott.

The panel consists of six current or former lawmakers, Republican ex-Gov. Bob Martinez and Scott's deputy chief of staff, Jenn Ungru. Secretary of State Kurt Browning is a ninth, nonvoting member and chairman.

The panel last week put off a decision so it could see what happens in other states, particularly South Carolina, usually the last of the four traditional states.

South Carolina Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly has sole authority to set a date. He has said he'll wait until just before Saturday's deadline and that he doesn't want to share a date with any other state, particularly one that breaks party rules.

A date earlier than March 6 for all but the four early states would violate Republican Party rules that allow only those traditional early-voting states to go before then. Other states that break the rule could lose half of their delegates to the party's national convention.

"My job is to protect the voters of Florida and worry about the Republican National Committee rules second," Cannon said.

He said that still might leave Florida with about as many or more delegates than the first four states combined.

The Democratic Party has a similar rule. To avoid violating it, Florida Democrats probably will not hold a primary because President Barack Obama is seeking re-election. The party might select its convention delegates at a caucus later on.

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