No one was more challenged by Florida’s flip-flop in the GOP presidential primary schedule than South Carolina Republican Party chair Chad Connelly. Connelly and even Republican Party leaders in Florida had assumed an agreement worked out in Kansas City with the late RPOF chair Dave Bitner would hold. Florida’s Republican leaders had agreed to the terms of that agreement covering the primary schedule.
However, a government appointed committee in Florida decided to ignore earlier decisions and move Florida’s primary date to January 31, 2012.
“Florida was a linchpin” in the schedule, said Connelly. “If they decided to throw muscle around, there wasn’t much we could do.”
Connelly commented on the situation during a telephone conference with bloggers on Wednesday. The conference was organized by Ali A. Akbar and Arraon Marks, with the Vice and Victory Agency.
The committee’s decision threw other states’ schedules into chaos. Unlike Florida, other early states like South Carolina—in the upstate—and New Hampshire have winter weather. That meant turnout could be affected and turnout would be a key factor in the selection of an eventual nominee.
Some analysts posited that the change was aimed at helping former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who is the candidate of choice for many old guard Republicans. Main Street was not amused.
Undaunted, South Carolina’s Republican Party went about the business of moving the state’s primary date to January 21, 2012. Other states followed suit.
Connelly worked with what he had, but he admitted the committee in Florida put the schedule “in complete disarray.” Connelly also pointed out a paradox. “We are the party of the rule of law,” he said. “Florida’s own representatives voted for the calendar we had set up.”
South Carolina, Connelly noted, is also a far easier state for lesser known candidates to establish a presence in. Florida is a vast state with sharp differences among Republicans. “Only a wealthy candidate can go there [Florida] and compete well,” he said.
South Carolina gained, however, by landing influential debates such as the first debate on foreign policy to be held on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Wofford College (Spartanburg). Connelly said in a press release, “The CBS News/National Journal debate will reveal the candidates’ views on wide-ranging foreign affairs topics, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the changes throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, and the global war on terror.”
South Carolina will also host a debate on January 16, 2012, in Myrtle Beach.
Karen Martin spoke during the phone conference on Wednesday, saying she’s “happy” that the tea party was involved in planning the debate on foreign policy. Martin is a tea party organizer from Spartanburg. She said Connelly was “tea party before there was a tea party.”
The debate liaison for Wofford is Kerry Wood. Wood will also handle security. Wood said a special area has been set up just in case there are protesters. Law enforcement from local and state agencies will assist college security personnel. Wood said if anyone moves beyond the designated area, “Law enforcement has the authority to stop them.”
Connelly reacted quickly and efficiently to Florida’s abandonment of the original agreement on the primary, but like many on Main Street, he is still troubled by the Sunshine State’s action. “This was arrogance towards the whole nation, their own people and their own state,” he said.
Numerous Republican leaders in Florida publicly agreed with Connelly’s assessment.
Current poll averages at Real Clear Politics show businessman Herman Cain as the frontrunner, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in second place and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in third.