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Later presidential primary sails through House

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill delaying next year's presidential primary elections in Florida continued its fast-track movement through the Legislature on Wednesday, getting unanimous support from the House.

Lawmakers voted 114-0 to move the state's primary to the third Tuesday in March, which would be March 15 next year. The bill (HB 7035), which pushes the vote back by two weeks, would allow the Republican Party of Florida to make its primary winner-take-all under the national GOP's rules.

As a sign of how quickly the legislation is moving, the Senate Rules Committee is set to take up the upper chamber's version of the bill (SB 7036) on Thursday morning. If that panel signs off, the legislation would be headed to the Senate floor.

The Republican National Committee's rules for party primaries call for states that vote before March 15 in 2016 to allocate their delegates proportionally. States that wait until that date can award all of their delegates to the winning candidate --- a treasure trove in a large state like Florida that could particularly come in handy for former Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, both of whom are considering bids for the White House.

The Republican Party of Florida would ultimately choose whether to go with a winner-take-all system or award delegates proportionally.

Legislative leaders have brushed off suggestions that the move is being made to benefit Bush or Rubio in a potential fight for the GOP nomination, instead casting it as something that would draw the spotlight to Florida, the nation's largest swing state in general elections.

"I think it's a bill about Florida being relevant, and that's really what it comes down to," said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

Democratic delegates are rewarded proportionally regardless of when a state's primary is held. Aside from some carping that the idea was originally offered by a Democratic sponsor in 2009 and 2013 --- after early primaries led the national parties to take away some of Florida's delegates --- the minority party didn't argue the changes.

"We didn't hear any indication from our party in Florida or the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that it would have any impact," House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, told reporters.

State Republican Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, a state House member from Spring Hill, has signaled that he would like the state to give all of its delegates to the winning candidate.

Moving the primary back is the opposite direction of where lawmakers have tended to go in Florida. The state previously tried to move up in the order, scrambling efforts by both the Republican and Democratic parties to protect the traditional early votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.