TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Seeking to make Florida more "meaningful" in choosing a Republican presidential nominee, the Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to moving back the date of the state's presidential primary elections.
Senators, with little debate, unanimously backed a bill (HB 7035) that passed the House last week. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.
The bill would lead to the presidential primaries being held on the third Tuesday in March, which would be March 15 in 2016. Under current law, next year's primaries would be on March 1.
The change would allow the Republican Party of Florida to make its primary winner-take-all under the national GOP's rules. Those rules require states that vote before March 15 in 2016 to allocate delegates proportionally. States that wait until March 15 can award all of their delegates to the winning candidate -- a potential bonanza in a large state like Florida that could particularly help former Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio if they are seeking the GOP presidential nomination next year.
Democratic Party delegates are awarded proportionally regardless of when a state's primary is held.
"This bill makes it so that the choice of a winner-take-all or a proportional election be held in Florida for the Republican Party and makes Florida meaningful in the presidential primary elections,'' Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman Garett Richter, R-Naples, said.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, asked what appeared to be good-natured questions about the need for the change for "all Floridians."
"I was just wondering because a lot of my district after redistricting is, I think I'm about 80 percent Democrat (in the district), so for my constituents, would most of them be affected in any way by this bill if I vote yea or nay on it?" Smith asked.
"If they change their registration and come on over to the Republican side, then it will have an impact,'' Richter replied. "But if they don't change their registration, there's probably little impact."
Delaying the primary date is a different strategy from past efforts by Florida to move up earlier in the presidential primary season. Those efforts led the national parties, which have sought to protect early contests in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, to take away some of Florida's delegates.