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Florida GOP To Move Up Presidential Primary, Defying National Party

Republicans in the Sunshine State have long been expected to throw the 2012 GOP presidential primary-and-caucus season into its usual chaos.

Reports Wednesday that legislators will schedule the state's primary on Jan. 31, a week earlier than the tentative date for the usual first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential caucuses, would accomplish that.

Florida legislators are determined to have the state GOP primary go fifth in the contest order, behind only the national party-sanctioned early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

"We insist on going fifth, on our own day, and as soon after the first four as possible," says Orange County Republican chairman Lew Oliver. "Nobody is talking about jumping the first four."

Florida, as well as other states, is ignoring the national party rule that requires states other than the early four to schedule their contests no earlier than "Super Tuesday" on March 6. The penalty for going earlier - loss of half its delegates at the national nomination convention - has not proved a deterrent.

The news out of Florida, where the GOP-controlled legislature is in charge of establishing the date, set off a home-stretch scheduling scramble: the Republican National Committee requires that states finalize their primary plans by this Saturday.

Florida is expected to formally set its date on Friday.

New Hampshire, which wants to preserve its status as the nation's first primary contest following Iowa's first caucuses, has yet to establish a date. South Carolina and Nevada have also held back.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who establishes the Granite State date, was not available for comment Wednesday morning. (Pretty busy, according to his office.)

Oliver says his state will do whatever it takes to go fifth in the order because it wants voters to have an early say, and because it will help organize state Republicans for the general election.

"Our object is to win the general election, and Florida is the most important state in the country when it comes to winning next November," he says. "It is vital to do everything humanly possible to increase turnout here in the general."

Depending on what other states do, including how they react to Florida's power play, the GOP presidential context season could begin as early as the first days in January. Primary expert Josh Putnam at Davidson College lays out the possible permutations.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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