ORLANDO — Three years ago, noted political consultant Doug Guetzloe, it all came down to one state: Florida.
“Three years ago, Florida was indeed the critical primary for the GOP,” said Guetzloe, the host of The Guetzloe Report on the Phoenix Network.
As the Florida Republican presidential primary approached, the GOP race was still wide open, with Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee all competing for the nomination. On primary day, McCain won 36 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31 percent, Giuliani’s 15 percent and Huckabee’s 13 percent — and the race was essentially over. McCain went on to easily secure his party’s nomination, and Florida had played kingmaker, Guetzloe noted.
“When McCain defeated Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee, they all dropped out,” he said. “Florida was critical four years ago, and it’s even more critical this time. It’s huge.”
Last week, Florida Republicans opted to hold the state’s presidential primary on Jan. 29 next year — the same date as in the 2008 presidential campaign.
That decision prompted an outcry three years ago, because their party’s rules prohibited states from voting before Feb. 5 — but the state GOP ignored the outcry.
There was a similar complaint last week from the Republican National Committee, which is once again trying to avoid having too many states hold primaries in January, with the exception of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The states that buck the rules risk losing half their delegates, which for the Florida GOP means losing 48 of its total 99 delegates.
But Guetzloe said the state Republican Party was right to ignore its national counterparts.
“I think it’s a huge development from the standpoint of enhancing Florida’s status,” he said, adding that no one in Florida politics should be concerned with what the national party thinks about this.
“The Republican National Committee is controlled by Eastern elitists,” he said. “Who cares? By the time the convention rolls around, it will not matter anyway.”
if Florida does hold its primary on Jan. 29, only those other four states will have voted beforehand. What that means is the nomination could get decided by the end of January, said Freeline Media contributor Dexter Miller.
“I think when it seems front loaded like that, it benefits the big players the most,” Miller said, adding that the ones with the best organization, name recognition and money — most likely Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Rick Perry, the governor of Texas — will be the ones who survive.
That also makes it harder for a lesser known candidate like Georgia businessman Herman Cain — who surprised many by winning the Florida straw poll vote in Orlando last month — from climbing to the top of the pack, Miller said.
“It cuts out the people like Herman Cain,” he said.
Guetzloe predicted the early voting states would not settle the nomination before Florida holds its primary. He noted that there is no front-runner for the Iowa caucus, where Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and Perry all seem to be competitive.
New Hampshire has a primary, and Romney is leading in the polls there. But the same was true when Romney ran in 2008, and he lost the Granite State’s primary to McCain, who had lost the Iowa caucus vote to Huckabee.
“New Hampshire and Iowa will go to different individuals,” Guetzloe predicted. “New Hampshire is still up in the air. Romney is in the lead, but he was last time and he lost. Romney never gets more than 25 percent of the vote anywhere.”
Guetzloe also predicted that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is trailing in the polls nationally, could be a sleeper in New Hampshire.
“That would be Romney’s worst nightmare,” Guetzloe said. “It could go to Huntsman, who is on the move in New Hampshire. I’m thinking Huntsman might win there.”
If that happens, that brings it all back to Florida, Guetzloe said — and in particular to Central Florida.
“We’re in Central Florida,” Guetzloe said, “and in Orlando, and we’re the swing corridor in a swing state.”
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