Herman Cain upset the Republican presidential apple cart with an impressive win Saturday in the Florida straw poll. Now it looks like the Sunshine State could once again disrupt the march toward picking an opponent for President Obama.
According to published reports, Florida's presidential primary could move to Jan. 31, more than a month ahead of schedule. A panel named by Gov. Rick Scott and GOP legislative leaders is expected to complete the move Friday, and that could put the state in hot water with the Republican National Committee.
(UPDATE: And the panel indeed did move the primary to Jan. 31)
According to RNC rules designed to prevent a chaotic rush during primary season, only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can hold elections before March 6.
But Florida, which will play host to the 2012 Republican National Convention, in Tampa, wants to have a more central role in picking the nominee. To achieve that, it would run afoul of the RNC, which will dock it about half of its 116 convention delegates.
Speaking to the Miami Herald, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) said: "That's the price we have to pay. I feel bad for those folks who might not be able to be delegates. But ... we'd love to give the entire Republican Party membership in Florida the ability to have an influence on who the nominee would be."
Florida also pulled a similar move in 2008, moving its primary to Jan. 29, and helping to lock up the nomination for Sen. John McCain. Though all the Florida delegates made it to the convention floor in Minneapolis-St. Paul -- with about half being characterized as "honored guests" -- the RNC seems in no mood to make a deal this time.
Also speaking to the Herald, RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said: "Any state that violates the rules will lose half their delegates. This is not a negotiation. These are the rules."
The current schedule has the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 6, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 14, the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 18, and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 28.
Determined not to be knocked off its perch as the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowa will do what it takes to keep its place of honor.
In a statement, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said: "The four sanctioned, early states have been very clear that we will move together, if necessary, to ensure order as outlined in RNC rules. If we are forced to change our dates together, we will."
In a Sept. 29 interview on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren," GOP candidate Sen. Rick Santorum (obviously not a disinterested observer), said: "For the life of me, I don't understand what Florida's trying to accomplish, because whatever they're going to accomplish, they're going to fail. ... All you've effectively done is cut off one month of the lead-up time to this primary process."
He also defended the role of the smaller states, saying: "They've had a pretty good track record of taking the responsibility very seriously. ... These states are smaller states. It's manageable for them to meet the candidates, to kick the tires, to find out who these people really are."
Theoretically, Iowa could go as early as the first week of the year.
Democrats avoid all this hullabaloo by having their incumbent run unopposed (at least so far). But if former Clinton advisor Dick Morris is to be believed, the Democratic race could become as complicated as the GOP's.
In a Sept. 21 article on his website, DickMorris.com, the former Democrat strategist writes: "As bad news piles up for the Democrats, I asked a top Democratic strategist if it were possible that President Obama might 'pull a Lyndon Johnson' and soberly face the cameras, telling America that he has decided that the demands of partisan politics are interfering with his efforts to right our economy and that he has decided to withdraw to devote full time to our recovery.
"His answer: 'Yes. It’s possible. If things continue as they are and have not turned around by January, it is certainly possible.' "
Though Morris is leaning toward prediction territory, he's not the first person to publicly suggest the same thing.
On Sept. 18, Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune (a sister paper of the Los Angeles Times, under the Tribune Co. umbrella), wrote a piece called "Why Obama Should Withdraw."
He wrote: "In the event he wins, Obama could find himself with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress. Then he will long for the good old days of 2011. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner will bound out of bed each day eager to make his life miserable.
"Besides avoiding this indignity, Obama might do his party a big favor. In hard times, voters have a powerful urge to punish incumbents. He could slake this thirst by stepping aside and taking the blame. Then someone less reviled could replace him at the top of the ticket."
And who did he think that someone should be? The answer can be found in the picture at the top of this post, a shot from the New Hampshire primaries of 2008.
-- Kate O'Hare
Photo: Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea visit Democratic supporters in Nashua, N.H., on primary day, Jan. 8, 2008. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images