TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida has put itself in a position to help the White House bids of either former Gov. Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio, by setting up a winner-take-all Republican presidential primary as early as possible in the nominating calendar.
Florida is the third largest state and its 99 Republican delegates are about as many as will be chosen by the first three states that hold primaries and caucuses combined — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Florida's winner will get a large boost on the path to earning 1,144 delegates for the nomination.
Mac Stipanovich, a lobbyist and political consultant, said the assumption is in play that either Bush or Rubio would win the primary in their home state. Many Florida Republicans, he said, may be split on which of those candidates they prefer, but overall want to make sure that one or the other comes away with all the delegates.
"I don't think the people who support Jeb dislike Marco or people who support Marco dislike Jeb," he said.
Florida has supported the eventual nominee in every Republican primary since 1972.
The Florida Legislature set the stage for the rich delegate prize this year when it sent Gov. Rick Scott a bill to move the presidential primary from March 1 to March 15. That's the earliest date under Republican National Committee rules to hold a winner-take-all primary. The Florida Republican Party voted Saturday to make that the case rather than have the state's delegates divided proportionally.
It's a departure from the last two Florida winner-take-all primaries, when lawmakers broke the national Republican Party's rules in an effort to be more relevant in the nominating process. Even though Florida lost half its delegates, it still had significantly more than other, smaller, early primary states and it became a frequent campaign stop for candidates. Sen. John McCain in 2008 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 were propelled to the nomination after carrying Florida.
But Florida faced much stiffer penalties if it again broke national party rules.
Several other states are expected to join Florida in what could be a huge day on the presidential primary calendar. Because they are already popular in Florida, Bush and Rubio could be freed up to focus on other large states voting that day. Other candidates might throw in the towel in Florida rather than spend money reaching the state's 4.2 million Republicans and risk getting nothing out of it.