Tampa Convention

SC GOP to lose half its convention delegates

gnsmith@thestate.comJuly 25, 2012 

S.C. Republicans are bracing to lose half their delegates to next month’s Republican National Convention as the penalty for moving up the date of their presidential primary without the national GOP’s consent.

While the S.C. GOP has yet to receive official word, its leadership assumes it will be stripped of 25 of its 50 delegates to the Aug. 27-30 convention in Tampa, where Mitt Romney will get the GOP presidential nomination.

That means only 25 S.C. delegates will take part in the four-day event, an every-four-year chance for state Republicans to rub shoulders with national GOP leaders and fellow Republicans from around the nation.

The penalty comes at an uncertain time for the S.C. GOP, which has hosted the South’s first primary every four years.

From 1980 through 2008, S.C. Republican primary voters correctly predicted the eventual GOP nominee during every presidential cycle. That track record meant Republican presidential hopefuls spent inordinate amounts of time and money in the state, seeking voter support and stimulating the state’s economy. This year, however, that streak was broken when S.C. GOP voters chose Newt Gingrich over Romney.

Instead, Florida Republicans upstaged their S.C. counterparts, voting just after the Palmetto State primary for eventual-winner Romney, setting the former Massachusetts governor on the road to his nomination. South Carolina’s loss of its role as GOP kingmaker is even more galling because Florida attempted to jump ahead of the Palmetto State in the GOP calendar, causing S.C. Republicans to move their primary forward at the cost of convention delegates.

“I am disappointed not to get to go,” said Shery Smith, chairwoman of the Sumter County Republican Party and one of the delegates who will get the boot. “I understand that rules are rules, but really it’s Florida’s fault.”

After Florida moved its primary to Jan. 31 from March, the S.C. Republican Party chose to defend its first-in-the-South primary, moving its presidential primary to Jan. 21 from February.

The result? Both South Carolina and convention host-state Florida now face losing half their delegates.

“We had to move our primary up when Florida jumped us,” Smith said. “It’s more important for South Carolina to maintain that (first-in-the-South primary) position than it is for me to go to the convention. That status means candidates recognize the importance of South Carolina and come here and meet with South Carolinians in presidential years.”

Smith and the other 24 delegates, elected by the state GOP to attend the convention, knew all along that they could lose their convention seats. Each ran as “provisional delegates” who knew they might have to stay home.

S.C. Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly, who made the call to move the primary up, said Tuesday he doesn’t regret that decision. Since the primary, Connelly unsuccessfully has lobbied the Republican National Committee, including its chairman Reince Priebus, to eliminate the penalty.

“Leading up to our primary, we had nine Republican candidates crisscrossing our state,” Connelly said. “That’s hard to replicate. They ate out. They bought gasoline. We held debates. They bought ads. It was great for the economy and great for South Carolina to be in the spotlight. The value it brought to this state was tremendous for all South Carolinians, no matter your political stripe.”

In another sign South Carolina is being penalized, the delegates’ assigned hotel is 40 minutes from the Tampa facility where the convention will be held. Delegates will take a bus to the convention daily.

“We’re at a very nice hotel, but it is one of the farthest from the convention,” said Matt Moore, executive director of the S.C. Republican Party. “We have to take a bus in, but (delegates from other states) have to get on a bus to get to the convention too because it’s in Tampa, not in a New York or another metropolitan city.”

There is hope that South Carolina will not be penalized at future conventions should another state try to jump ahead of the Palmetto State in the GOP primary calendar.

In April, a Republican National Committee panel passed a proposal to end penalties against early voting primary states that move their primary dates forward in response to other states.

That rule change will be up for more discussion at next month’s convention. A final decision is unlikely to come before next spring.

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