South Carolina will hold its Republican presidential primary Jan. 21 to stay ahead of Florida and keep its status as the first primary in the South, S.C. GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said Monday.
The S.C. primary originally was set for Feb. 28, but Florida recently moved its primary from March 6 to Jan. 31.
"As I've said repeatedly, I would do whatever it took to keep this first-in-the-South presidential preference primary for South Carolina, I would keep our status," Connelly said.
Since 1980, the winner of the South Carolina Republican primary has gone on to be the Republican presidential nominee.
In keeping its first-in-the-South status, South Carolina risks losing half of its delegates to the Republican National Convention next August in Tampa, Fla. By moving its primary into January and ignoring GOP rules on primary dates, Florida faces the same penalty.
When Florida Republicans announced their earlier primary date last week, it created confusion among GOP leaders in other states.
"Last Friday, a nine-person committee brought chaos to the 2012 nomination calendar. Today, South Carolina restores order," Connelly said.
Connelly said that at the next Republican National Committee meeting he would advocate for harsher penalties for states that break party rules.
"Forty nine states played very pretty in the sandbox, and only one decided to do it wrong," Connelly said.
Bill Pickle, Florence County GOP chairman, said Florida should have to give up all of its 99 delegates if South Carolina has to give up half of its 50 delegates.
The S.C. GOP also will host a Republican debate with Fox News a few days before the primary, Connelly said. The date and details were still being worked out, he said.
The 10 days between the Florida and South Carolina primaries could stretch some candidates' budgets but would allow the time to campaign in both states, Connelly said.
Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa, other states allowed to hold early primaries under Republican and Democrat party rules, also must decide when to vote. It is unlikely any of those states will move their primary into December, Connelly said.