Beaufort News

SC GOP primary set for Jan. 21 to beat Florida

Voters in the S.C. Republican primary will head to the polls Jan. 21, a Saturday, to cast ballots for the GOP's presidential nominee.

S.C. GOP chairman Chad Connelly chose that date Monday after Florida officials decided last week to break national GOP rules and move up their state's primary to Jan. 31.

The Florida decision set off a firestorm among Republicans in South Carolina and three other early voting states that, under Republican National Committee rules, had the right to host their primaries and caucuses first, in February.

As a result, the four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- also decided to break the rules, moving their nominating events into January. South Carolina is the only state to announce its date so far.

"Last Friday, a nine-person committee brought chaos to the 2012 calendar," Connelly said of Florida's decision. "Today, South Carolina is making things right.

"South Carolina Republicans have a 30-year track record of picking the eventual Republican presidential nominee. We will continue that historic tradition on Jan. 21, 2012."

In addition to the state's record of voting for the eventual GOP nominee in every primary, Connelly said, South Carolina deserves to be "first in the South" because its small size allows candidates to easily crisscross the state and meet voters. And the state's inexpensive media markets allow all candidates a chance to get out their message.

An official with the Florida Republican Party said Monday he was pleased with South Carolina's decision to move up its primary.

Brian Hicks, spokesman for the Florida GOP, said his party's decision was not meant to rob South Carolina or the other early voting states of their coveted spots in the primary process. He argued the move simply provides Florida an earlier, more prominent role.

"We never wanted to box South Carolina in, and we're pleased they've chosen to move their date up, too," Hicks said. "The date South Carolina has chosen leaves plenty of time in between our primary and their primary so that both states can play the prominent roles they deserve."

The migration of GOP caucuses and primaries into January has the effect of compressing the primary season and could quicken the GOP's selection of a nominee.

But critics worry the compressed calendar means that a candidate who does poorly in Iowa, which traditionally holds its caucus first, or New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, will have little time to recover before the voting swings to Nevada, South Carolina and, now, Florida.

Starting the primary season sooner also could hurt a candidate who was late to enter the race, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, or potential candidates, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is being urged to run by some Republicans.

The move also gives the S.C. GOP less time to raise money to pay its part of the cost of the primary, which is only partially underwritten by the state.

Republican National Committee officials have said any state -- including South Carolina -- that breaks party rules and moves its presidential contest earlier in the year will be stripped of half of its delegates to the national convention, set for Tampa.

But Connelly said he will oppose that punishment at the RNC's January meeting, contending that Florida forced South Carolina's hand. "I'll push back on that hard," he said.

State Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, who attended Monday's announcement, said S.C. lawmakers agree with Connelly's move to preserve the state's coveted "first in the South" primary.

"It's so important that ... we'll take whatever penalties we have to," Ballentine said.

Connelly also said the S.C. Republican Party is in talks with Fox News to host a presidential debate in the days leading up to the primary.