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GOP Fla. caucus may fuel primary stampede

WASHINGTON -- So much for pushing back the start of primary season.

Despite efforts by the political parties to delay early presidential primaries and caucuses, states trying to increase their influence are leapfrogging their dates, threatening to push the first Republican contests into early January -- again.

A Florida commission is expected to announce today that its date will be Jan. 31, according to House Speaker Dean Cannon. Other states are lobbying Florida to reconsider.

The move by Florida could spark a stampede by Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which were granted special status by both parties, allowing them to hold the first nominating contests.

"The bottom line is, if Florida moves, I'm moving," said South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly, who has the authority to schedule the state's Republican primary. "We're going to be the first in the South presidential preference primary, no matter what it takes."

Connelly said he would try to schedule South Carolina's primary as close to Florida's as possible, perhaps Jan. 28. That could push the Iowa GOP caucuses to Jan. 9, followed by the New Hampshire primary Jan. 17 and the Nevada caucuses Jan. 21.

This scenario, however, assumes that no other state jumps into January.

"Iowa will be first. The only open question is the date on which we hold our first in the nation caucuses," Iowa GOP chairman Matthew Strawn said.

Georgia broke the trend yesterday, announcing it will hold its primary March 6, the 2012 version of Super Tuesday.

The RNC deadline for setting primary and caucus dates is Saturday, though some states may miss it. Those states could have their delegations challenged at the national convention in Tampa. -- AP

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