GOP starting line inches toward New Year's Day

By Stephen Ohlemacher

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 9:25 p.m. MDT

Michigan risks losing half its delegates because the state has scheduled a primary for Feb. 28, the same day as Arizona. Anuzis said the Michigan date is set by state law.

Colorado, Minnesota and Maine are also looking to hold GOP caucuses in early February. They won't violate party rules if their straw polls don't actually award delegates to candidates, though they would compete for attention with other early voting states.

The Missouri primary date is set for Feb. 7 by state law. The contest will be held, but state GOP leaders decided on Thursday to abandon the balloting to award delegates. Instead, state leaders decided, candidate delegates would be selected in caucuses to be held on March 17. The primary essentially becomes a multimillion dollar poll.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has no leeway to wave the penalties for states that break the rules, spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

"The rules are the rules," Kukowski said. "Any state that violates the rules will lose 50 percent of their delegates."

Four years ago, Florida and Michigan held early GOP primaries against party rules, and were supposed to lose half their delegates. Eventually, the states had their entire delegations seated at the national convention, though they lost half their votes in a nomination election that was already a forgone conclusion.

"My overall frustration is, we've got this set of rules that we're not going to follow," Connelly said. "So it just means that the party's rules have no teeth, and all these states can jump the date."

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said there was little appetite in Georgia to break party rules and schedule an earlier contest. Besides, he said, he expects the GOP nomination to still be in doubt on March 6, giving Georgia plenty of influence in deciding the nominee.

"I think that they're going to uphold the rules," Kemp said. "If they don't, there's going to be hell to pay, if you will, in four years."

In Florida, a commission appointed by the governor and legislative leaders has until Saturday to set the state's primary date. The commission is scheduled to announce its decision Friday, and RNC officials have been lobbying Florida to reconsider the Jan. 31 date. But, said Cannon, the Florida House speaker, "My job is to protect the voters of Florida and worry about the Republican National Committee rules second."

Associated Press reporters Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Fla., Seanna Adcox in Columbia, S.C., Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo., Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo., and Errin Haines in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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