Expect to see a steady stream of Republican presidential hopefuls during the next 16 months, as South Carolina has an early nod that it will be the first GOP primary in the South.

S.C. GOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd said Tuesday a special committee of the Republican National Committee has recommended preserving the state's early role in the process.

The party's Temporary Delegate Selection Committee agreed to pick South Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada as the earliest tests.

The committee's recommendation said no other state may hold a presidential primary, caucus or convention before March 6, 2012. Those four can hold theirs anytime after Feb. 1, 2012.

While a final decision won't occur until later this year, Floyd said the decision "virtually ensures that South Carolina's unique First in the South status will be preserved through the 2012 presidential election."

The news also underscores the political importance of the June 8 gubernatorial primary, as its winner -- if he or she becomes governor -- could be expected to play an influential role in the presidential race. Every Republican presidential nominee has won the state's primary in recent history.

Floyd, who touted how the state's relatively small size makes it easy to campaign here, thanked the committee for its recommendation.

"The relatively low cost of running a statewide campaign in South Carolina allows candidates to save crucial resources for the real fight in November," she said. And the campaigning leading up to the vote gives the state an economic shot in the arm, she said.