Charleston businessman Lanneau Siegling had hoped to travel to Tampa in three weeks to attend the National Republican Convention, but he is one of a few dozen party faithful across the state who plan to stay home instead.
“If it worked out, it would be fun to go,” Siegling said, “but it now looks like it’s not going to work.”
S.C. Republicans are resigned to sending only 25 delegates and 25 alternates to this year’s convention instead of their full complement of 50 delegates and 50 alternates. The state lost half its delegates when it moved up its presidential primary date.
Siegling, who has never been to a national convention, downplayed his unlucky break. “It might have been nicer had it been my choice not to go, not a bureaucracy’s,” he said. “That’s as close to a fussing as I can come up with. I’m fine.”
When Florida also broke party rules and set its primary date for Jan. 31, South Carolina leapfrogged it and picked Jan. 21 to remain first in the South — a status it has held for several presidential election cycles.
State GOP officials met at least a dozen times with the national party in hopes of getting the penalty dismissed — they argued Florida forced South Carolina’s hand — but they’ve had no success, state Republican Executive Director Matt Moore said. “The RNC (Republican National Committee) seems intent on enforcing it,” he added.
Mark Hartley, a former Charleston County GOP chairman who is among the 25 delegates making the trip, said it’s unfortunate South Carolina will lose half its representation in Tampa, but it was more important for the state to hold an early presidential primary.
“I think there was a consensus that the penalty was well worth losing half the delegates,” he said. “Honestly, I talked to many folks who said they kind of hope we don’t get these delegates back because that would embolden other states to say, ‘Hey, if there’s no penalty, let’s all jump ahead.’ ”
Four years ago, South Carolina was penalized, though some party faithful made the trip to Minneapolis in hopes they would be seated. They weren’t.
Lowcountry GOP delegates include Hartley, Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett, Dorchester County GOP Chairwoman Carroll Duncan, S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, Sen. Larry Grooms of Bonneau and S.C. Federation of Republican Women President Charm Altman. Alternates include Wiley Johnson of Dorchester County and Andrew Boucher of Berkeley County.
Hartley said Harrell’s wife, Cathy, also would have been a delegate had the state been able to send 50 rather than 25.
Those unable to attend as delegates or alternates still can make the trip and attend receptions and other social events; they just will have a harder time getting into the convention hall.
Moore said the national party is looking at a rules change that wouldn’t penalize states that move their primaries up in response to other states.
Hartley said if this year’s primaries and caucuses had not produced a clear winner, then South Carolina Republicans might wish they had their full 50 delegates, but he expects the biggest suspense will be who gives a speech in prime time.
Bennett said the state’s losing half its 2008 delegates hasn’t hurt the party during the last four years. “We’re just as strong if not stronger than we were at that time,” she said. “It’s a sad thing because you’d love for those people to go with you and enjoy the opportunity.”
Losing half their delegates is yet another blow to state Republicans, who also saw their streak of picking presidential primary winners end this year. South Carolina Republicans went for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich instead of the eventual presumptive nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.