State Politics

GOP leaders propose using ballot access to get presidential candidates to Florida

Here’s the novel idea state GOP leaders have come up with to ensure every presidential candidate shows up to the state party’s Nov. 13-14 “Sunshine Summit” cattle call: If any candidate fails to attend, his name will be excluded from Florida’s primary ballot.

In other words, if Donald Trump or Jeb Bush or Ben Carson or whoever fails to speak in person to 2,500 party insiders at the summit organized by Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, then more than 4 million registered Republicans won’t have an opportunity to vote for that candidate in Florida’s March 15 presidential primary.

“I would not say this is blackmail,” said Brad Herold, executive director of the state party. “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.”

State party officials will vote on the proposal in 10 days, but unbeknownst to the state GOP, Politico was on the line during a private conference call about it Tuesday night. On the call, Politico reported, National Committeewoman Sharon Day opposed the plan, calling it “pay to play” and likening it to “blackmail,” but other party officials were enthusiastic.

Florida leaves it up to the state parties to select names to be placed on the ballot for the presidential preference primaries, so this decision boils down to about three dozen people on the state GOP’s executive board.

Florida had one of the earliest and most important primaries in 2008 and 2012, but this cycle’s March 15 primary follows contests in about two dozen other states. Even with four Florida residents running — Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of West Palm Beach, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who lives in the Panhandle — Republican officials fear Florida could become the Rodney Dangerfield of presidential primaries.

These are rocky times for Florida’s Republican Party. Neither Gov. Rick Scott — who organized his own presidential candidate forum in June and did not invite Ingoglia — nor Republicans in the Florida Senate are raising money for the state party.

Ingoglia already rescheduled this forum because it conflicted with the October legislative special session for redistricting, and he expects it will be a major fundraising vehicle. Tickets are $200 for the two-day session, and $300 to include a fundraising dinner headlined by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Presidential candidates “are just not taking us seriously,” said Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, noting that few have visited the state except for fundraising, and a handful are not willing to commit to the Sunshine Summit in Orlando.

“Any of these candidates could become the nominee if they win in Florida. But if they ignore us, they become a weaker general election candidate and that makes our jobs harder,” Diaz said. “We’re good enough for our money, but not good enough for our grass roots?”