- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The battle of the primaries intensified yesterday when South Carolina Republicans announced they will retain the first presidential primary in the South by jumping ahead of Florida’s newly set Jan. 29 contest.

Their decision trumps Florida’s attempt to hold its primary much earlier than all but four other states and likely will force New Hampshire to hold its primary a week or two earlier than its tentatively set date of Jan. 22 and possibly affect Iowa’s caucuses on Jan. 14.

“We have the latitude as a party of setting our own primary dates and we are going to move our primary accordingly before January 29 to ensure that we are the first in the South,” South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson told The Washington Times yesterday.

“I’m not worrying about angering anyone else. Remember, this is a state that started the Civil War. We are not worried about offending any other state. We’re going to pick a date and let the chips fall where they may,” Mr. Dawson said.

The move has set off a domino effect in the early primary states that threatens to rescramble the schedule and force the national parties to level penalties on the states that hold their primaries or caucuses before Feb. 5.

In moving up the primary date, Florida Republicans had sought to be the first large state to influence the outcome of their party’s presidential nomination race, despite warnings from the Republican National Committee (RNC) that they would lose half their delegates to the national party convention in 2008 if they proceed with their plans.

Florida’s Republican state chairman, Jim Greer, told The Times last week that the party is willing to accept any penalty for its decision, but said talk in the party’s inner circles suggests that the eventual nominee would ask the RNC to waive such penalties.

Mr. Dawson said his plan to move up the Republican primary in violation of the rules means that “we would also lose half our delegates, but we are prepared for all that because this primary is important for South Carolina and for all Republicans.”

How much effect the emerging primary scramble will have on the early contests remains to be seen. Florida’s move initially did not seem to trouble New Hampshire voting officials.

“I understand why [Florida is] doing it and that’s OK,” New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said Monday, adding that he would wait until this fall to set an official date.

New Hampshire’s primary law does now allow any other primary to be within a week of its first-in-the-nation primary, and South Carolina’s move likely will force the state to hold its primary much earlier, Mr. Dawson said.

“I’m sure they will have to move their date up,” he said.

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