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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 10:14 GMT
Q&A: The Florida primary
Voters in the US state of Florida go to the polls on 29 January to help choose the Republican and Democratic nominees for the presidential election in November.

But the state has been penalised for breaking party rules by holding these votes - or "primaries" - before 5 February.

The penalty is a reduction in the number of delegates the state can send to the parties' national conventions in the summer, where the nominations for the presidential election are officially made.

Why is Florida holding its primary early?

It is one of a number of states that have brought their votes forward, in the hope of maximising their influence on the presidential nomination process.

KEY DATES
29 Jan: Florida primary
5 Feb: Some 24 states hold primaries and caucuses including California, New York and Illinois
12 Feb: Maryland and Virginia primaries

The chairman of Florida's Republican Party, Jim Greer, said in May 2007 that the aim was to give Florida "a louder voice in who leads the country" and to ensure that presidential candidates paid more attention to the state.

In 2004, the Florida Democrats held their primary on 9 March, a week after John Kerry effectively clinched the Democratic nomination. (There was no Republican primary in 2004, because no-one stood against George Bush.)

Why is Florida being penalised for this?

In an attempt to stop the rush to the front of the queue, both the Democratic and Republican National Committees decreed that - with certain exceptions - no primaries should take place before 5 February.

The Democrats decided to allow four states to hold contests before this date - Iowa and New Hampshire, because of their traditional first-in-the-nation status, plus Nevada and South Carolina, to increase the geographic and demographic diversity of the early contests.

The Republicans allowed only Iowa and Nevada to hold votes before the cut-off date, because technically, those states' contests (known as "caucuses") are non-binding.

Are any other states being penalised for holding contests before 5 February?

Yes. Both parties penalised Michigan, which held its primary on 15 January.

The Republican party also penalised New Hampshire, South Carolina and Wyoming, which have also already voted.

How are they being punished?

The Democratic Party is barring all Florida and Michigan delegates from voting for the presidential nominee at the party's national convention in the summer.

The Republican Party is halving the number of delegates from all the rule-breaking states.

The whole point of the primaries is to select the delegates who will vote at the national convention, so the Democratic primaries in Florida and Michigan now have little more than symbolic value.

But there are still 57 Republican delegates at stake and the primary is being hotly contested.

Is the Florida Democratic primary still going ahead?

Yes, but to show their loyalty to the national party, all of the Democratic presidential candidates agreed not to campaign in the state.

Hillary Clinton, however, who polls predict will win the Democratic primary, has said she will make a public appearance in Florida after the polls have closed.

Unlike in Michigan, she is not the only leading Democrat with her name on the ballot. Voters will also be able to register their support for Barack Obama or John Edwards.

Are Florida's convention delegates likely to be reinstated?

Local bosses from both parties believe that by the time the conventions come around, the national parties will be keen to avoid a row and will allow the delegates to take part after all.

Hillary Clinton has also begun lobbying for Florida's and Michigan's delegates to be restored.

Commentators have suggested that if no clear winner emerges from the primary season and the party cannot agree on a nominee, this may be one way of breaking deadlock at the convention.



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