WASHINGTON Republican Party leaders on Monday recommended punishing five states for shifting their nomination contests earlier, moving to strip New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming of half their delegates.
At least one state, South Carolina, is considering legal action in an effort to keep its delegates to next year's Republican National Convention.
Iowa, which plans to hold Republican caucuses on Jan. 3, would not be penalized because, technically, the caucuses are not binding on convention delegates. Nevada, which plans to hold its caucuses on Jan. 19, would not be penalized for the same reason.
"It's very important that our party uphold and enforce the rules that we unanimously voted into place at the Republican National Convention in 2004," said Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The rules ban holding votes before Feb. 5.
Wyoming is scheduled to hold its nominating conventions on Jan. 5. Michigan will hold its Republican primary on Jan. 15, South Carolina on Jan. 19 and Florida on Jan. 29.
New Hampshire has not yet set a primary date, though it is required by state law to hold its primary at least seven days before any other, raising the possibility of a December vote.
The Republican National Committee's executive committee voted unanimously with two members abstaining to recommend the punishments, Duncan said.
The proposal now goes to the full RNC, which will vote on a recommendation to Duncan following state elections in November. Duncan has the final say.
The Republican nominee for president will have to win a majority of the 2,379 delegates to the convention, a number that could change slightly, depending on the outcome of five state elections in November.
Under the RNC's action Monday, Florida would lose 57 delegates, Michigan 30, South Carolina 23, Wyoming 14 and New Hampshire 12.
However, some states are banking that whoever wins the GOP nomination will eventually restore the delegates.
Both parties have struggled to control their primary calendars. The Democrats have voted to strip Florida of all its convention delegates for scheduling its primary on Jan. 29, and the party could do the same to Michigan if it goes ahead with a Jan. 15 vote.
Florida Democrats have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the punishment.
Democratic rules allow four states to hold votes before Feb. 5: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Republican rules, adopted at the 2004 national convention, do not allow any exceptions.
South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson said he will consider legal action if the state is penalized delegates.
"I don't think we will have any problem going to fight for our delegates. Will we get them all? I don't know, but we are certainly going to put up a fight," Dawson said in a telephone interview.
Duncan said there is plenty of legal precedent granting political parties the authority to set their own rules.
"I'm very confident of our legal footing," he said.
New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said his state's delegates are being punished, even though they have no say on the date of their primary. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has the sole authority to set the state's primary date.
Cullen, however, said he is willing to accept the punishment to "protect and preserve" New Hampshire's status of having the first primary in the nation.
"The RNC has made it clear that they intend to enforce the rules against any state that goes before Feb. 5," Cullen said Monday. "We hope it doesn't come to that. We feel that we have something special that takes place in New Hampshire, a process here that's serves the nation well."
GOP chairmen in Florida and Michigan said they are hopeful that their entire delegations will be admitted to the convention, though neither threatened legal action.
"While we disagree with the Republican National Committee's recommendation to sanction the state of Florida, at the end of the day this is a disagreement among friends and we recognize that we are all working towards a common goal re-electing a Republican president in 2008," Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer said in a statement.
Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said, "Michigan Republicans remain committed to holding its presidential primary on Jan. 15, 2008."