The presidential primary season will be set for a later start in 2012 given the new calendar approved by members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) on Friday.
Rule changes to which the committee agreed are also likely to significantly alter the way the party selects its presidential nominee.
At its summer meeting in St. Louis, the RNC moved the Iowa caucuses, the traditional kick-off to the nomination season, to the first Monday in February. That would be followed by the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire and then primaries in South Carolina and Nevada.
Under the new rules, no other states are permitted to hold their primaries before February.
The re-working of the calendar was aimed at bringing some stability to the process, which saw many states move up their primary dates in 2008 in an attempt to wield more influence over the race.
Iowa's 2008 caucuses were held on Jan. 3, which meant most staffers and candidates traded in their holidays for the snowy Iowa campaign trail.
The committee's major rule change is over the way some states will have to award convention delegates, which will affect the way candidates organize and campaign in 2012.
States that hold their nominating contests during the month of March now must award delegates proportionally, similar to the way Democrats award convention delegates. If states want to wait until April, then they are permitted to hold so-called 'winner take all' contests, which award all of the state's convention delegates to the primary winner.
Part of the hope is that it offers an incentive for states to set their primary dates for later in the cycle, rather than moving them up.
Another likely result is that candidates will be unable to parlay early primary wins into a large lead in convention delegates. The idea is that it lengthens the primary calendar and allows more states to have a say in the process without scrambling to move their primary dates.
Committee members approved the changes by a vote of 103-41.
The RNC plan was put together in consultation with officials from the Democratic National Committee. The two committees hoped to stave off more chaos on the calendar by both agreeing on a schedule.
The DNC will vote on the new primary calendar when it meets later this month.