Florida Gov. Charlie Crist fired the starting gun that could set off another mad dash of states jostling for early dates to choose nominees for the White House.
Crist, a Republican, on Monday signed the Florida Legislature's plan to move up the Sunshine State's 2008 presidential primary to Jan. 29, leapfrogging a critical mass of states gravitating to primaries on what's becoming known as "Super-Duper Tuesday" on Feb. 5.
Florida is defying threats of penalties from Republican and Democratic parties for jumping ahead in the pecking order of states choosing presidential nominees, behind voters only in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wyoming.
Florida's fast break is making an already complicated process even more uncertain. It "may be the hole in the dike," said Andrew Smith, an expert on presidential elections at the University of New Hampshire. Other states - including New Hampshire, with the nation's earliest primary, and South Carolina - could scramble to move up their dates to choose nominees even earlier, he predicted.
In what is shaping up as the earliest start to a presidential election in history, 13 states already are on board to vote for presidential candidates or have nominating caucuses on Feb. 5 - also Fat Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras. Three more - Colorado, Georgia and Illinois - are a governor's signature away from joining the stampede to the Feb. 5 date.
At least 23 states in all are angling for that date in what critics of the rush now are calling "Stupid Tuesday." That number far outpaces the 1984 "Super Tuesday" that involved 14 states. Only Kansas has bowed out of the frenzy by canceling plans for its 2008 presidential primary. Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota will vote dead last on June 3, though Montana and New Mexico are still considering chiming in earlier through caucuses.
New Hampshire already is eyeing moving up its Feb. 22 primary date in light of Florida's action. New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner has not ruled out scheduling the country's first presidential primary before the end of 2007, telling The New York Times "it's not beyond the realm of possibility." New Hampshire law requires its presidential primary to fall on a Tuesday a week or more before any "similar election."
Florida's action also could cause consternation in South Carolina, which had been promised the mantle of being the first Southern state to hold presidential primaries in 2008 and would have to share the Jan. 29 date of its Democratic primary with Florida. South Carolina's GOP primary is scheduled for Feb. 2.
In all, as many as 30 states including California, New York and Illinois could weigh in with Democratic and Republican presidential picks by Feb. 5, 2008. By comparison, nine states had chosen nominees by the first Tuesday in February 2004, sending President Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on to their party's nominations.
Florida zeroed in on the Jan. 29 date after concluding that its customary second Tuesday in March primary date was too late and that sharing the stage on Super-Duper Tuesday wouldn't let its diverse population have enough say in choosing the next president.