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MIAMI (CBS4) – In 2000, hanging chads and butterfly ballots threw the presidential election in Florida into chaos. In 2012, a challenge to the state’s early GOP presidential primary could make for some volatility as well.

The Newt Gingrich campaign intends to mount a challenge with the national Republican Party, arguing that Florida’s “winner take all” primary violated party rules.

As grist for the challenge, Gingrich’s people are citing a letter that Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus wrote to state party officials in December, saying the decision to hold an early, attention-grabbing primary could be subject to a challenge.

“‘Winner take all’ states cannot hold a primary or caucus before April 1st, 2012,” Priebus wrote, citing an RNC rule passed in 2010. “Voters may file a contest seeking proportional allocation of Florida’s delegation.”

Were such an appeal successful, Gingrich could get 18-20 Florida delegates, depending on how the party eventually defined “proportional.”

The state party insists it received clearance for its’ early primary from the full RNC much earlier last year; that it was approved with the understanding that the punishment would be the loss of 50 of Florida’s 100 delegates.

A spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) told CBS4’s Gary Nelson on Thursday that Gingrich is a sore loser.

“Sour grapes,” said the RPOF’s Brian Hughes. “All the candidates knew – the Gingrich campaign knew – the rules long before election day. Now that they’ve lost, it seems they’re making some sort of protest or challenge to our rules.”

Dario Moreno, a professor of political science at Florida International University, sees the Gingrich grumblings about a challenge as political posturing from a candidate who knows he is falling behind a surging Mitt Romney.

“They’re trying to cast doubt on what was a pretty clear victory by Romney. They’re trying to tell their supporters that they’re still in the game,” Moreno told CBS4 News.

The effort to undo the Florida delegate distribution would have to be approved by the full RNC in it’s rules session just before the national convention in Tampa in August, or by a vote of the convention itself.

Moreno sees little chance of the challenge being successful, but should Gingrich prevail, it could make for an exciting week in Tampa.

“The only way this really matters is if we get to August and we have a brokered convention,” Moreno said.


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