Sucker punched again!

In 2008, I was a strong Mitt Romney supporter and was looking forward to casting my vote for him. Then, on Jan. 26, a mere three days before the primary, then-popular Gov. Charlie Crist sucker punched me by endorsing John McCain. I knew then that it was all over, and it was. Crist’s choice for the GOP presidential nominee became Florida’s choice.

I was sucker punched again two years later, this time by both the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Senatorial Committee. When both groups endorsed the same Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate, I wondered why the hell we even bother with primaries. This time, I wasn’t alone. Former Gov. Jeb Bush also thought the endorsements were premature. In an interview with the National Review, Bush felt Rubio should have been given an honest chance, adding, “I think that the idea that the national party would pick a winner a year and a half before an election is the wrong way to go.” Given the election results, Florida voters felt the same way.

Last week, it was deja vu all over again. This time, it had nothing to do with either the governor or my Grand Old Party. It was the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee (try saying that three times really fast), a bipartisan body created by the Florida Legislature. On Friday, it set Florida’s 2012 presidential primary for Tuesday, Jan. 31. This move will cost us half of our delegates underRepublican National Committee rules, which allow only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold primaries before March 6.

Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein told local CBS affiliate WPEC, “Going to the convention as a delegate or as an alternate is a great honor, and for many people who are active in politics, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.” Although I would dearly love to attend a Republican national convention, I know it’s not in my immediate future. I’m way too far down the food chain for that. However, there are many deserving, hard-working Republicans who should go and have every right to do so. Given the fact that next year’s convention will be held in Tampa, this is the best, most affordable shot for them. Now that opportunity will be denied.

Moving the primary to Jan. 31 creates another problem. The straw poll results from the Presidency 5 gathering in Orlando proves, above all else, that the election is far from over. Second-tier candidate Herman Cain destroyed first-tier candidates Romney and Rick Perry by garnering more votes than both of them combined. But this vote represented the opinion of 3,000-plus delegates, all of whom were politically active, politically astute and knowledgeable of both the issues and the candidates. The same can’t be said of the voting public at large. An old joke involves a reporter asking the “man in the street” why Americans are so politically uninformed. “Is it ignorance or is it apathy?” he asks. The man answers, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” And so it goes.

My point is that the electorate is entitled to additional time to get to know who’s running, and the committee’s decision to set an end-of-January primary denies them that opportunity. This is especially important given the enormous stakes this year. Almost everyone knows Romney’s name. The same can’t be said of Cain, Rick Santorum or even Perry. Being right is crucial; being first is not.

Reacting to the committee’s decision, Politico called Florida a rogue state. I just say it punched me in the gut again when I wasn’t looking.

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