Friday, August 10, 2007

The South Carolina Republican Party may lose half its delegates to the Republican National Convention next summer — a penalty for yesterday’s announcement that the state party will move its 2008 presidential primary to Jan. 19.

“It’s important to us to remain the first primary state in the South for economic reasons and for the people who put up yard signs and sport bumper stickers,” South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson told The Washington Times shortly after he announced the date change that violates a Republican National Committee rule.

“No Republican candidate has won nomination without first winning South Carolina, beginning in 1980, when we became the first in the South to hold a primary,” Mr. Dawson said. “It propelled Ronald Reagan then — and George W. Bush in 2000 — to the White House.”

Mr. Dawson made the announcement in New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first U.S. primary. He told The Times he flew to New Hampshire to symbolize the importance of preserving “retail politics.”

“When the candidates campaign on TV in the megastates, they don’t have the opportunity to see and meet the people they will govern,” the South Carolina chairman said.

The RNC rule says any state holding its presidential nomination contest before Feb. 5 will lose half its allotted delegates to the Republican National Convention in September 2008.

The South Carolina move is expected to impact the New Hampshire Republican Party, which is also subject to having half its delegates not seated at the national convention.

As a result of the South Carolina change, New Hampshire is certain to move up its primary to Jan. 8 from Jan. 22. State officials and business leaders long have said New Hampshire’s tradition of holding the first primary in the nation is immensely important to the state’s economy.

Florida’s Republican Party, which could lose half its far larger delegation (about 114 delegates), had already defied the national party by announcing it would move its primary from March 11 to Jan. 29.

With an estimated 41 delegates allotted to it, Iowa, whose economy also benefits from its tradition of holding the first presidential nomination contest in the nation, does not face penalties, national party officials said privately.

Originally scheduled for Jan. 14, Iowa’s presidential caucuses would now have to move to New Year’s Day, the first Tuesday that would allow it to follow state law requiring Iowa to hold its contest eight days before any other state’s contest.

New Hampshire violated the RNC rule in the 2004 elections but the threat to penalize it was not carried through by Ken Mehlman, who was then the RNC chairman. Current chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan has repeatedly warned state Republican Party chairmen that this time he would throw the book at violators of the RNC’s primary date rule.

“I fully expect Duncan to impose the penalties and if not, then the Rules Committee will do the enforcing,” said Rules Committee Chairman David Norcross.

New Hampshire had already said it would hold its primary in mid January and more recently Florida said it would move its primary up 41 days, to Jan. 29, ahead of South Carolina.

South Carolina traditionally has its contest the Saturday after New Hampshire’s primary in order to be the first in the South, which makes it a must state in which to campaign and thus reaps the dollar benefits that flow from the crowded presence of candidates, campaign workers, reporters and virtually round-the-clock advertising in the local media.

In South Carolina’s case, it stands to lose about 23 of its estimated 47 delegates to the national presidential nominating convention.

The precise number of delegates for states has yet to be determined and will depend in part on the outcome of gubernatorial and other elections scheduled this November.

One reason some state parties are willing to risk delegate penalties is the conviction that whomever emerges as the nominee before the convention would immediately become the effective head of the national party and would likely forgive penalties and find a way to seat all delegates.

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