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South Carolina won't play 2nd fiddle to Florida

  • Updated

COLUMBIA -- No way, no how will South Carolina let Florida steal the Palmetto State's first-in-the-South presidential primary.

That was the message Thursday to Florida's GOP from South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly.

Reckoning time is expected today after a nine-member Sunshine State committee announces a date for Florida's primary, which could be set as early as Jan. 31. South Carolina's primary was expected to be held in early February, but Connelly said he will wait to announce South Carolina's primary date until after Florida officials set theirs.

"If Florida wants to be the bad boy, I'm going to make them make us move," Connelly said.

South Carolina is not alone in condemning Florida. The GOP leadership in the other three early primary states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada -- pledged to move their primary dates to preserve their first-in-the-nation contests.

If Florida tries to leapfrog South Carolina, Connelly said he will schedule the state's primary just ahead of Florida's to protect the millions of dollars in free advertising that come to the state through national media exposure because of its first-in-the-South status. That exposure could translate into tourism and economic development.

But Connelly stressed another outcome: If states try to outdo one another by scheduling early primaries, the result could be a national primary in which only the wealthiest candidates could compete. The candidates would maximize their time by staying in the most populated states with the largest media markets, Connelly said.

Florida's decision to possibly upset the primary process also violates the Republican National Committee rules. The state risks losing half of its delegates at the party's presidential nominating convention. The party's presidential candidate is officially nominated by delegates, guided by the primary elections held in their state.

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The RNC rules call for the four early primary states to hold their elections between Feb. 1 and March 6. All the other states, including Florida, must hold their primaries after that, or risk the penalties.

Lin Bennett, Charleston County Republican Party chairwoman, said South Carolina has proven itself in the world of GOP politics.

"We have picked presidents for the United States of America back to Ronald Reagan, who came here broke with no chance in sight, and we made him the president of this great country," Bennett said. "The candidates who come here are vetted by the voters. We make them stronger. We make them better."

South Carolina's small geographic size makes it ideal for White House hopefuls, who can move easily across the state. Plus, the cost to advertise in South Carolina media outlets is significantly less -- and therefore more affordable -- than larger states.

Brian Hughes, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, said the committee is expected to reach a primary date decision by noon today. Hughes said the decision is under control the committee and out of the hands of the party leadership.

Hughes said he had not seen or heard any indication on Thursday that the committee would back off the Jan. 31 primary date.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her on Twitter at @yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog.

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