Florida steps on Iowans’ Advent

Well, Florida has gone and ruined the holidays. The Grinches in the Florida Legislature who moved their GOP primary up to January have stolen Christmas. That’s just the first item on the bill of indictment that is being drafted at the Vatican even as you read this. Expect papal arrests soon. Good-natured Iowans and New Hampshire residents have been charitable enough to spend their vacations and retirements in the Sunshine State. How about some reciprocity and fair play? Enough is enough when it comes to diluting their nomination influence. 

Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are being bullied into moving their nominating events ahead, perhaps even into December of this year. All this because Floridians have a Delaware-like appetite to be first in something that matters. For the uninitiated, Delaware already owns the “First State” distinction, and a million pink flamingos can’t change that. So Florida wants to be the first state of significant size to influence the Republican nomination. I get this, but is disrupting the calendar necessary? Didn’t the 2008 primary system prove that Florida could still be relevant at a later, more normal date?

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While I don’t like push polls, I am thinking of some delicious questions that could be aimed at Florida Republicans regarding those who perpetrated this sacrilege while preparing for reelection. “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a Republican legislator who claims to be a Christian conservative but voted to change the political calendar so that it takes the Baby Jesus out of Christmas in Iowa?” My latest polling in Florida, just out of the field, says that 39 percent of likely Florida GOP primary voters attend church weekly. They won’t be happy once they hear what’s been visited upon their brothers and sisters in other states.

Let’s be honest, despite the pious bent of many conservative Republicans, there must be a lot of secular humanists (the 25 percent of Florida GOP primary voters who never attend church) in the backroom running things because someone has trampled on the Advent season. Christmas caroling in Iowa and Hanukkah songs in New Hampshire will be disrupted by the constant ringing of the phone and doorbells as desperate campaigners try to line up their voters. To hell with the frontyard crèche. Put up a 4-by-8 campaign sign in the front yard to tell neighbors how to vote. If Wise Men from the East bother to show up again, they’ll be harassed this time around by Ron Paulistas and Tea Partiers out stalking illegal immigrants. Oh, the horror that Florida has wrought.

Getting serious in a secular way, frontloading the process has all sorts of horrible economic consequences. First, it robs some of the early states of an expected financial windfall that comes from months of campaigning and media coverage. This move by Florida’s legislators literally takes bread off the table of Iowa and New Hampshire business operators like hoteliers, restaurant owners, TV- and radio-station ad-sales staffers, billboard owners, etc. I might add that it does the same in Florida. Candidates are already campaigning and spending in Florida. The Legislature’s actions just cut that spending by 20 percent or so.

The problem, too, is that unless everyone moves up their primaries, there will be a hole in the calendar that will bedevil campaigners. Any momentum and excitement that the early contests create will be extinguished during the dead time left by Florida’s move. Campaigns will burn several weeks of budget just flailing to stay relevant and staffed for the days that follow. Even if a winner is found in Florida, he or she will have a longer general-election campaign to fund — not a good scenario against an incumbent with deep-pocketed supporters.

David Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.