Delegation penalties to remain unchanged at Republican convention

The five states penalized for shifting their presidential primaries earlier than Republican National Committee rules permit will retain those penalties, each sending only half of its allocated delegates to the GOP convention later this month.

Florida’s decision to shift its primary from March 6 to Jan. 31 sparked a political game of musical chairs, with a number of states subsequently moving their primaries back to retain significance in the drawn-out GOP nominating process. 

New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona all scheduled earlier primaries, and Iowa moved its caucus up, flouting RNC rules concerning scheduling that had been dictated at the 2008 convention.

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And now they are paying the price.

The penalties “for moving ahead of the calendar will remain intact. There is no process for changing that,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.

New Hampshire is sending 12 delegates to Tampa on August 27, down from the full 24.

Michigan is sending its full delegate slate of 56 people with the knowledge that only 30 will have voting rights. They're hoping the other 26 will at least be seated on the convention floor, but they've been given no guarantees by the RNC that that's possible.

South Carolina is sending only 25 of its 50 delegates but party leaders felt the penalty was worth it in order to preserve their “First Primary in the South” mantle, South Carolina GOP Executive Director Matt Moore said.

“Our delegates believe it was well worth the penalty to have the First in the South primary. We’ve had it for 32 years now, and we're willing to accept the penalty instead of losing the spot.”

And the delegation has been assigned to a hotel that “is a little farther away than I guess would be ideal,” Moore said. But he added that the RNC realizes the state was penalized for simply reacting to Florida’s move, and so the national Party will likely offer the state some perks to lessen the impact of the penalty, including extra guest passes.

Under RNC rules, only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are allowed to hold their primaries before March 6, offering those states coveted “carve-out” status that gives them a large amount of media and candidate attention. With it brings prestige in the nominating contest and an economic boom to each state, as candidates convene to campaign and the national press and political watchers follow.

In order to retain relevance, those carve-out states shifted their primaries back as well.

To protect their positions in future presidential election years, the carve-out states are lobbying for a rule change at this year’s convention that would penalize only the state that jumped the line, not those forced to scramble as a result. The potential rule change passed unanimously at the RNC’s spring meeting, and will come up for a vote by the Rules Committee and the delegates at the convention later this month.

That rule change could be necessary to protect states’ delegations, as Florida could repeat their shift four years from now.

“As long as Florida stays a swing state, as long as our population stays representative of the nation’s population, we’re going to believe we need to be an early part of this process,” Florida GOP spokesperson Kristen McDonald said.

The state, which is hosting the convention, is optimistic they can get all the delegates inside the hall even though only 50 will be able to vote.

The state party is working to get the remaining 49 seated on the convention floor as honorary guests, which is what happened in 2008. However, it's rumored that they'll be getting less than a prime seating spot.

"We’ve been working closely with the RNC and are doing everything we can to ensure that our delegates and guests are taken care of," McDonald said.

The state’s decision to shift its primary up to January was somewhat unsurprising, as it happened in 2008. McDonald said the state’s legislature believes Florida should play a larger role in the nominating contest than is allowed by the March 6 primary date provided by RNC rules.

“We agreed that Florida is a very important swing state, we’re the largest state in the country, our population is kind of representative of the demographic makeup of the country,” she said.

Democrats in 2008 restored full voting rights to the Michigan and Florida delegations, which were also penalized for moving up their primaries, after then-assured-nominee Barack Obama made a last-minute bid to Democratic National Committee.

This year, those states incurring penalties lobbied the RNC in hopes of a similar waiver, but soon realized that they were non-negotiable, and it’s unlikely they’ll be removed in the next three weeks before the convention.

As a result, Florida’s move sparked some animosity among those early states forced to reschedule their primaries and incur penalties due to what they saw as a selfish choice.

Shery Smith, a provisional delegate to the convention — meaning she would have gone if South Carolina were able to send its full 50 delegates, but now cannot — said she was frustrated with the penalty but willing to make the sacrifice to retain South Carolina’s clout in the competition. 

“I’m disappointed that I don't get to go. I’m county chairman as well. I have actually one of my interns going as a page, and I’m going to be here,” she said.

For now, however, those delegations penalized have resolved themselves to their fate.

Tim Sifert, spokesperson for the Arizona Republican Party, said the Arizona delegation isn’t worried that their reduced numbers — the state will now be sending 29, rather than the full 58, delegates — will mean less of a role in the process.

“We'll just yell louder. It is unfortunate but it's just the reality,” he said.