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Sunday, Dec 17, 2017
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Toward more democratic and disciplined primaries

Republican brass during the convention pounded their chests and warned states they must comply with the party's 2016 schedule for presidential primaries or face a paddling. The threat was directed at Florida, which should not be intimidated. It's the party that needs to come to its senses. The shrill "don't you dare" stance came on top of the banishment of Florida's delegation to what Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnum termed "primary purgatory." The offense? State leaders moved this year's primary date from March 6 to Jan. 31, defying party honchos. So Florida's delegation was cut from 99 to 50 and was assigned to the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, when normally the host delegation could expect a hotel close to the convention site. Next time, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus promises the punishment will be much more harsh. As the Tribune's William March reports, this year the party allowed the "banished" 49 delegates to attend the event and participate in all the activities, except for voting. But if the state rebels again in 2016, Florida would lose all but 12 of its delegates, minimizing the impact of a victory in the state and discouraging candidates from campaigning here.
It's curious that Republican bosses would think slapping around a state with 19 million people and 29 electoral votes, one that has been crucial to Republican presidential victories, is smart policy. A better political strategy would be to develop a presidential primary schedule that makes sense. The primary season now starts with the Iowa caucuses, which generates enormous media attention but is near irrelevant as a gauge of the nation's sentiments. As we've pointed out previously, the farming state has but 3 million residents. It is 5 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black. New Hampshire, another big attention-getter, has only 1.3 million people, with 1.3 percent black and about 3 percent Hispanic. The country, in contrast, is 16 percent Hispanic and 13 percent black. Florida offers a strong representation of the nation's growing diversity, with a population that's 23 percent Hispanic and 16 percent black. One would think the GOP would want a primary schedule that would ensure the emergence of candidates with broad appeal. Indeed, Mitt Romney's strong showing in Florida, where he campaigned despite a high probability that he wouldn't get all the delegates his popularity here justified, proved critical to his ultimate success. The party should be grateful that Florida brought some sanity to a ridiculous primary schedule that benefits candidates with limited appeal, a narrow geographic base and a small chance of national success. All this interparty squabbling would be unnecessary if Congress would adopt a more logical system. We've suggested one that would establish regional primaries and change their order every four years so that each region would have a turn going first. Florida's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has pushed for such an idea, but that shouldn't keep the GOP from recognizing its merits. The idea is fair and democratic, not partisan. Republican leaders should recognize that a primary system that alienates a large, must-win state and allows the emergence of fringe candidates does not help either the party or the republic.
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