South Carolina Republicans Push to Keep “First in the South” Primary

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones/Redux

Rick Santorum's stop in Ridgeway, South Carolina.

That Republicans haven’t even picked their 2012 presidential nominee hasn’t stopped South Carolina Republicans from preparing for 2016, when they want to again hold the first nomination contest in the Republican-friendly South.

South Carolina Republican legislators, including state House Speaker Bobby Harrell, introduced a bill in the state legislature today that would mandate the selection of a presidential primary date that is “at least seven days immediately preceding the date on which any Southern state holds a similar presidential primary election.” It defines the South as a 15-state region.

The bill is modeled after a law in New Hampshire that says it must hold the nation’s first primary.

A record 603,700 voters participated in this year’s South Carolina Republican primary, which Newt Gingrich won. With Gingrich far behind front-runner Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in the delegate count, this year’s Republican primary almost certainly will be the first that didn’t opt for the eventual nominee. Still, Republicans point to the national attention South Carolina received through candidate visits, five debates and millions of dollars in television advertisements.

“Since the election of President Ronald Reagan, South Carolina’s First-in-the-South Primary has swayed huge national influence,” Harrell said in a statement. “With more and more states trying to jump ahead of South Carolina each election, we need to take steps to protect our state’s historic primary position.”

Republican National Committee rules allow Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to vote before other states so long as their contests are held no earlier than Feb. 1 of the election year. The RNC stripped New Hampshire and South Carolina of half of their delegates this year because they held binding delegate-selection contests in January. South Carolina set its primary for Jan. 21 after Florida advanced its primary to Jan. 31, also in violation of national party rules.





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