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Florida GOP will require 2024 candidates to sign loyalty pledge to qualify for primary ballot

<i>Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Florida Republicans
Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images
Florida Republicans

By Eric Bradner, CNN

(CNN) — Florida Republicans are requiring 2024 presidential candidates to sign a loyalty pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee in order to qualify for the primary ballot next year.

Their move raises the stakes of a March 19 Florida primary that could play a decisive role, since the contest is winner-take-all. The party’s top-two polling contenders – former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis – are both Floridians, and their hopes of winning the nomination could depend on the massive pool of 125 delegates awarded to the victor there.

The new pledge in Florida is similar to a Republican National Committee requirement to qualify for next month’s first presidential debate, under which participants have to sign a pledge “agreeing to support the eventual party nominee.”

At least one candidate – former Texas Rep. Will Hurd – has already said that he will not sign Florida’s pledge, even if that decision excludes him from the state’s ballot.

“The issue is not with me supporting a Republican nominee. The issue is I am not going to support Donald Trump,” Hurd told CNN on Thursday, following up on his earlier vow not to sign the RNC pledge.

Several other candidates have also bristled at signing the RNC’s pledge, and Trump and DeSantis have both sidestepped questions about whether they would commit to backing the other if that person wins the party’s nomination.

Asked by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in February if he would support the winner of the 2024 GOP primary, Trump said: “It would have to depend on who the nominee was.”

DeSantis has similarly refused to directly address whether he would support Trump if the former president wins the nomination. Last month in South Carolina, DeSantis said he would “respect the outcome of the process.”

“That’s what I’ll do. I think I’m going to be the nominee. No matter what happens, I’m going to work to beat Joe Biden,” the Florida governor said.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, on CNN last month, called the RNC pledge a “useless idea” but said he would sign it simply to qualify for the debate stage. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose campaign held a call with the RNC in hopes of amending the pledge, told CNN in June that the party was “trying to protect a particular person,” a clear reference to Trump.

Florida’s new pledge rule is also a stark departure from 2016, the last time the party held a contested presidential primary. That year, the state GOP did not require a loyalty pledge, even though two Floridians, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, were in the race.

Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Florida GOP, said in an email that the loyalty pledge is an effort to “ensure maximum unity” headed into the 2024 general election.

“The days of outlier party grifters – such as Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger – using Republican Party resources to secure a title and then weaponize that title against our own team must end,” Ziegler said, referring to two former House members, who are among Trump’s most vocal GOP critics.

“Contested primaries are part of the process,” he said, “but we must always remember that the Democrats are the true threat to the America we love and we must be unified to defeat every single one of them.”

To qualify for Florida’s primary ballot, candidates will have until November 22 to submit a signed, notarized pledge to “endorse the 2024 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is.”

The oath also states that candidates “will not seek to run as an independent, non-party affiliated, or write-in candidate” and will not “seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party,” according to the Florida GOP’s Party Rules of Procedure, which was filed recently with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections.

The state party is also seeking to bring 2024 candidates to the “Florida Freedom Summit” in November. Those who attend will owe a $25,000 filing fee to make the March 19 ballot; those who skip the summit will owe $100,000. Campaigns can skip the filing fee altogether if they gather signatures, though the threshold has increased from 3,375 Florida Republicans in the 2016 election to 56,000 for 2024.

Politico was first to report the new oath requirement from the Republican Party of Florida.

Three Floridians have entered the 2024 GOP race: Besides DeSantis and Trump, who shifted his official residency to the Sunshine State while he was in the White House, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez launched a long-shot bid for the nomination last month.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Rashard Rose and Sydney Kashiwagi contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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