Republican Party backs off requiring presidential candidates to attend Orlando summit

Amid an outcry from within party ranks, the Republican Party of Florida is poised to retreat from a proposal to require that presidential candidates attend a November summit to make it on the state’s primary ballot.

Under a new proposal released Thursday, GOP hopefuls would have three options to get on the March 15 ballot: Attend and speak at the Sunshine Summit, which is scheduled Nov. 13-14 in Orlando; pay RPOF a $25,000 fee; or file a petition with the signatures of 3,375 registered Florida Republicans, including 125 from each of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

The party’s executive committee will vote on the proposal Friday.

RPOF’s original idea to block candidates who do not attend the summit inspired prominent Republicans to speak out, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has said he’ll attend the summit, and Ben Carson.

“The committee wanted to expand the requirements to three options instead of just one,” RPOF spokesman Wadi Gaitan said in an email.

In Florida, party executive committees control who is on the ballot for presidential primary elections. Republicans and Democrats alike have historically not used qualifying requirements like what RPOF is considering this week.

But Florida Republicans hope adding the new rules will force candidates to make a commitment to Florida and show that they have support in the state before they’ll be on the ballot.

“We want everyone to be on the ballot, but if a candidate is not willing to come and meet with the most influential activists and donors in the state for one day, we should really question your commitment to running in Florida,” said Brad Herold, executive director of the state party, when the idea of requiring candidates to attend the Sunshine Summit was first floated last week.

Some 2,500 party activists are expected at the Sunshine Summit.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.