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Florida's primary shift may tilt GOP; Earlier voting looms in presidential tests

The nation's Republican presidential primary season could be bumping up against New Year's Day, as states seeking to boost their political clout look to set earlier contests.

Florida's 2012 Republican presidential primary could be scheduled for as early as Jan. 31, which most likely would prompt the states that traditionally have gone early to move up their own contests. Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday that the state's primary date selection committee meets Friday and is likely to choose Jan. 31.

Florida had been looking at an early March date; after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But other states have suggested that they will have earlier contests, and Florida lawmakers say they want to ensure that the nation's largest swing state has a significant say in choosing the Republican presidential nominee. By scheduling a primary that early, Florida could be penalized by the Republican National Committee, which might reduce the number of delegates the state can send to the national convention.

If Florida moves its date, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada would be expected to move up to earlier in January.

The Iowa caucuses are now tentatively scheduled for Feb. 6, New Hampshire's primary for Feb. 14, Nevada's caucuses for Feb. 18 and South Carolina's primary for Feb. 28.

All states must submit dates to the RNC by Saturday.

If Florida moves up, observers suggest, the Iowa caucuses -- the nation's first nomination voting, by tradition -- would be as soon as Jan. 5, followed by New Hampshire five to eight days later. Arizona already has said it will flout the RNC and move its primary to Feb. 28.

An abbreviated schedule could make it difficult for new candidates -- such as oft-mentioned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- to gain traction, said Craig Robinson, the founder of website and a former Iowa Republican Party political director.

On paper, moving contests into January favors the candidate with the most name recognition, the most money and the best organization. At the moment, that's former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has a wide lead among New Hampshire Republicans and in the money chase.

Florida's potential leapfrog got one unexpected endorsement: Vice President Biden, who told WLRN radio during an interview in Miami that "the big and important states should have a shot to make a difference in the outcome of the nominating process."