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Florida's presidential primary starts sooner than you think

David Smiley, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

And yet, the state offers more delegates than the first four primaries and caucuses combined. A win in all of Florida's 27 congressional districts would give any candidate more than 10% of the delegates needed to land the Democratic nomination.

And if the first round of primaries ends with a split result and no clear front runner, Florida actually might wind up playing a pivotal role.

Polls show a surging Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren leading in Iowa, with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg in striking distance. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is jockeying for the lead in New Hampshire. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains ahead in Nevada and South Carolina.

Under Democrat primary rules, states aren't winner-take-all, and candidates can pick up delegates by winning individual congressional districts. So, there's a chance three or more candidates will still have viable campaigns come March.

"The way this race may be a little different this time around is it may not be resolved" by the time Florida's primary is held, said Ashley Walker, Florida state director for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. "There may still be several candidates in the race."

Still, this year, presidential candidates not named Donald Trump have paid scant attention to Florida since the Democratic National Committee held the first debate of the election in Miami last June. All the candidates skipped the Florida Democratic Party's October convention, and have otherwise made only occasional visits to the state, mostly to raise money.


But as candidates focus their efforts elsewhere this winter, Floridians will be voting. And voting.

As much as a third of the Democratic primary vote may be cast by mail, and another third at early voting centers that open March 2. That means two-thirds of the vote may be cast before regular precincts open in Florida -- votes that could prove consequential if the early states are split and the race remains unsettled heading into Florida's March 17 primary.

So far, one campaign is better positioned than the others to take advantage.

While Biden recently hired a senior Florida campaign adviser and has deep ties to Florida thanks to decades of work in Washington, Warren's campaign got to work early in the state. She hired a Florida political director weeks ago, and her campaign manager, Roger Lau, stressed last month at the Florida Democratic Party's fall convention that Warren already has staffers working on the ground.


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