By Associated Press Writer
updated 5/3/2007 1:39:54 PM ET 2007-05-03T17:39:54

Florida took a step toward shaking up the presidential primary on Thursday, giving final legislative approval to moving the state’s 2008 primary to Jan. 29 and bypassing a dozen other states set for Feb. 5.

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Moving up Florida’s primary, which is currently in early March, would put the state’s contest behind only the Iowa and Nevada Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary—and on the same day as South Carolina’s Democratic primary.

State party leaders have argued Florida’s diversity and size merit more influence in deciding the nation’s leadership. The delegate-rich state decided the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who has consistently voiced his support for giving the nation’s fourth-largest state more say, is expected to sign the bill. The House voted 118-0 on Thursday to pass the measure. The Senate last week voted for the plan, which also would replace touch-screen voting machines in 15 counties with a paper-trail system.

Florida’s move immediately incurred the wrath of South Carolina party leaders and predictions that the national parties will penalize the state.

National Republican and Democratic leaders have said they will take away delegates to the nominating conventions if Florida moved its primary earlier than Feb. 5. The Democratic National Committee has said a candidate who campaigns in Florida for a primary earlier than Feb. 5 will be ineligible for receiving any of the state’s delegates.

“It’s very bad for the process,” said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler, who argued that candidates will be forced to spend more money on television and devote less time to meeting voters.

The former DNC Rules Committee co-chair said she has no doubts that the DNC will enforce rules that will deprive candidates and the state of delegates to the national convention for holding a primary outside of the party’s rules.

“Under Democratic Party rules, this is an illegal process. They will have to have their own legal process later,” she said. “This is not much more than a straw poll.”

Some 12 states, including California, New York and New Jersey, are scheduled to hold their primaries on Feb. 5, and at least seven others are looking to move up their contests.

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