Republican presidential hopefuls will descend upon Orlando for “Presidency 5,” the Florida Republican Party convention that could be the deciding event in the 2012 primary calendar.
About 5,000 of the state’s most hard-core Republican activists and leaders are set to attend the three-day convention, which includes tomorrow night’s Fox News presidential debate and the Florida GOP straw poll on Saturday.
More than other state conventions and early primary debates, it is crucial that GOP candidates shine during Presidency 5. Florida is a key early voting state that some predict will decide the GOP primary race next year. The 5,000 attendees — the state’s most die-hard GOP activists and leaders — can determine who lives and who dies in the Republican presidential race.
Candidates will be vying hard for the delegates support, which could translate into key endorsements and organizational power down the line. It’ll also be a prime opportunity for 2012 presidential hopefuls to court Florida’s elected Republicans, including the coveted Tea Party prince Sen. Marco Rubio, who is often mentioned as a potential VP pick. Florida Gov. Rick Scott will also be there.
Unlike other straw poll contests, the Florida Straw Poll has a solid record — no Republican has won the GOP nomination without winning the Florida straw contest. Ronald Reagan won the first (Presidency 1) in 1982, George H.W. Bush won Presidency 2 in 1987, and Bob Dole won Presidency 3 in 1995. (The party didn’t hold a straw poll at Presidency 4 in 2007).
In past years, candidates have spent lots of money to recruit delegates for the straw poll, but this year has been relatively low-profile.
The notable exception has been Rick Perry, the only candidate to announce a leadership team for the convention. The team, which will rally and recruit delegates to Perry’s campaign, is being chaired by Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, one of the highest profile political figures in the state.
“Gov. Perry knows that the path to the nomination and eventually the White House goes through Florida,” Cannon said in a campaign release. “He also knows how critical it is for Florida’s grassroots leaders to get a chance to know the candidates early, which is why he is focused on this state and participating in Presidency 5.”
Other candidates have sought to lower expectations by downplaying the event — Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann opted not to deliver remarks before the straw poll, and Jon Huntsman called it “diminished.” But all of the candidates will be on hand for the duration of the convention — an indication that the entire field recognises how decisive this weekend could be.
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