Republican Primary Calendar In Chaos

The Florida Legislature is likely to move its primary up to Jan. 31. That move will have a domino effect on primaries and caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

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The Republican Party has clearly not settled on a presidential candidate. It's also not clear when they'll start voting. We're going to talk about that with NPR's National Political Correspondent, Mara Liasson.

And, Mara, I think Florida messed with the primary calendar back in 2008. Are they at it again?

MARA LIASSON: Yes, they are. The Republican National Committee has lost control of the process, and the primary calendar is in chaos again. Later today, we expect Florida to move its primary date up into the forbidden zone, which is the period of time before March 6th. That's the period that the party has tried to reserve for the sacred first four primaries and caucuses. That's Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

If Florida moves up, those four will also move up their primary and caucus dates. And they'll keep moving them up in order to preserve their first in the nation status, even if it means holding their primary or caucus tomorrow.

GREENE: So we might start voting before Thanksgiving. Well, why - remind us why states take this status so seriously.

LIASSON: Well, the states that are jumping the gun think it matters because it's going to give their state more clout and influence over the nominee and force candidates to campaign more in their states, although they will lose half their delegates as a punishment. It also matters because candidates may have to alter their strategies somewhat. And, of course, to those of us who cover elections it matters because we might be spending our New Year's Eve or maybe Christmas Eve in Des Moines.

GREENE: Sounds lovely. I've been there, and it is lovely.

LIASSON: It's lovely, actually.

GREENE: It is indeed. I spent a New Year's Eve there. Well, punishment is important, because I think punishment became a big part of the Democratic primary fight in 2008.

LIASSON: Yes, it did, but they got their delegates back in the end.

GREENE: Well, let's go out to the campaign itself. The party doesn't know when it's going to start voting. They also don't seem any closer to rallying around any one candidate.

LIASSON: No. There's some chaos with the candidates, too. The new front runner, Rick Perry, is teetering. A bunch of new polls show he really has been hurt by his poor debate performances.

The old front runner, Mitt Romney, who has a kind of slow and steady wins the race tortoise strategy, seems to be working. His plan is to be the last man standing. As he put it himself on MSNBC this week, he said his strategy is, quote, "keep your head down, talk about the issues you care about and hope the other guys stumble."

And they have stumbled. First, Michele Bachmann, now, Rick Perry. I think the moral of the story is it takes a lot of preparation to run for president. Texas may be a big state, but it's not like running nationally. The issues are different. The scrutiny is much more intense. It's hard to get in late.

And when Perry got in he was smack in the spotlight. He had no time to be a bad candidate and get to be a better candidate. There was no time for out of town tryouts, which Mitt Romney has had for about five years.

GREENE: And briefly, can the field still grow? I mean, you say it's hard to get in late, but there's still talk of people like Sarah Palin, Chris Christie maybe getting in.

LIASSON: Yes. There is still talk, but I think it's getting very late. And I think Rick Perry shows why it's extremely hard to get in late.

GREENE: All right. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

GREENE: That is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

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