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Florida's presidential primary starts sooner than you think

David Smiley, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- Just after Iowa's caucuses and days before the first 2020 presidential primary in New Hampshire, Democrats in one of the country's premier battleground states will begin voting for their party's choice to go head-to-head with President Donald Trump.

Florida will mail out more than 1 million early ballots starting Feb. 6, according to the state Democratic Party. That's a quarter-million more Democrats receiving mail ballots than in 2016 -- and a reminder that Florida's March 17 primary really begins about six weeks earlier.

But no matter how early the voting begins in the Sunshine State, the candidates will almost certainly arrive late.

Unable to divert their attention or their cash from states where the primary comes earlier, more than a dozen candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination will likely rely on staffers and surrogates to carry their messages in Florida until just before the primary.

And that means hundreds of thousands of Democrats in Florida will cast their ballots in what is shaping up to be a primary by proxy -- with voting in the nation's most populous swing state based on mostly news coverage from other states and what they can glean from the candidates' bare bones campaigns in Florida.

"The financial fumes on which many of these campaigns are running just don't permit them to engage earlier in Florida," said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based pollster. "That's the reality."


Florida -- with its 219 pledged delegates and 29 Electoral College votes -- may be accustomed to being the center of national politics but in this primary season, it isn't. At least, not yet.

Voters here are largely interacting with campaign volunteers, not candidates. And three months from the start of voting, they're determining who they like based largely on campaign platforms tailored to electorates in states with significantly different demographics.

That's happening because Florida's Democratic primary is the 24th contest on the calendar, falling two weeks after primaries in Texas and California, the only two states in the nation offering more delegates. And candidates will need good showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to remain alive heading into Super Tuesday's 14 primary contests on March 3 -- and then Florida's primary two weeks later.

"I don't want to say it's inconsequential and doesn't matter, but it kinda doesn't matter," said Reggie Cardozo, who ran point on campaigns for Florida's state House Democrats last year. "I don't think the Florida primary is going to determine who the nominee is."


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