Hilton Head conservative symposium canceled

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 16, 2012 

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A group of Hilton Head Island conservatives took a gamble on last fall's game of presidential primary leapfrog and lost.

Conservatives for American Renewal & Exceptionalism had planned a symposium Friday through Sunday -- the second weekend before the state was to host its first-in-the-South primary.

The goal, in addition to providing participants an opportunity to share ideas and enthusiasm, was to draw GOP presidential candidates and their campaigns to Hilton Head to woo conservatives before the primary.

At the time, Florida was scheduled to hold its primary March 6. South Carolina was scheduled for Feb. 28.

Even though it meant sacrificing half of its delegates at this summer's Republican National Convention, Florida GOP officials moved their primary to Jan. 31, ahead of the Palmetto State's. South Carolina responded by giving up half of its delegates, as well, to move its primary to Jan. 21 and remain first in the South.

"Primarily, we have the Republican Party of Florida to thank," Tom Hatfield, one of the seven organizers, said of the decision to cancel the symposium. "That took part of the steam out."

Hatfield said most, if not all, of the Republican presidential candidates would have attended had the primary date not changed.

"We were in contact with all of the then-GOP candidates, and all expressed an interest, but without a commitment," he said. "They are all waiting for the next shoe to drop. ... We knew there was a possibility (the date of the primary would change), and we gambled."

With the symposium now scheduled after the primary, there was no reason for the candidates to come to Hilton Head, Hatfield said.

The group had looked at moving the date of symposium up to still correspond with the primary, but could not work out such an arrangement with the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, he said.

Another snag came when CNN announced it would host a GOP presidential debate in Charleston two days before the primary, Hatfield said.

Had the group been able to move up the symposium, the debate in Charleston would make it more difficult to attract candidates to Hilton Head, he said.

About 250 people were expected to attend the symposium, including elected federal and S.C. officials, Hatfield said. It was to feature keynote speakers and workshops focused on "restoring the Constitutional balance between the states, the individual and the federal government."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

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