by: Greg Suskin Updated:
COLUMBIA, S.C.,None - South Carolina Republicans are angry and they said fellow Republicans in Florida are ignoring party rules by plotting to steal the Palmetto State's political thunder.
Florida has shown intentions to move its primary election from March 6 to January 31st.
That's a clear violation of rules which only allow four states, including South Carolina, to hold primaries before March.
South Carolina GOP officials reacted strongly Thursday.
"We will fight for this, and any other state that wants to take us on, go ahead," said Charleston GOP chairwoman Lin Bennett.
Eyewitness News was at a news conference on the steps of the statehouse in Columbia Thursday. The party told reporters it would announce a date for its primary which was set for February 28th. Instead, there was no such announcement.
S.C. GOP chairman Chad Connelly said he'd let Florida make the first move and be the first to break the rules.
"If you guys in Florida want to be the bad guys, compress this calendar and lose out for all the voters in America, even if it's against your own state GOP, then go for it," Connelly said.
Republicans in South Carolina pledged to stand with Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire, the other states that are allowed to hold early primaries. That means, they will all break party rules and jump ahead of Florida, if Florida moves first.
"We will be first. We have the right and the position to be first," said York County Republican Party chairman Glenn McCall. "Yes. We are angry," he said.
The controversy appears to be in the Florida legislature, which is pushing for the state's primary to be held first in the south.
As recently as August GOP leaders nationwide approved sticking with the current calendar for primaries. Florida republicans also agreed to that, but then lawmakers got involved, and Connelly said the state got greedy.
"This is just one state being selfish," he said.
At lot more than state pride is at stake in a presidential primary. South Carolina has been first in the south since 1980, and state voters have picked the eventual nominee every year.
Tens of millions of dollars flood into local businesses from candidates, media, and supporters. Then there's the advertising dollars for TV, radio and newspapers.
If Florida and South Carolina leapfrog each other and shift their primary dates, both states could face losing delegates at the GOP national convention in Tampa.
South Carolina republicans said it's worth the risk if it means keeping their primary first.
Until the national Republican Party puts some tougher rules in place, there's little fear in breaking them.
Connelly told eyewitness news he asked national committee members if they'd be willing to move the national convention out of Florida if it breaks the rules, and was told no.
He said anything short of that is a slap on the wrist.
"They’re going to take delegates away, they're going to make them sit behind Guam at the convention, they're going give them all the bad hotels. I don't think any of those are fearful enough to make them stay in line."
Florida has until midnight Saturday to make a decision on its primary date. If the Sunshine State makes a move to be first, the Palmetto State vows to move too.