WASHINGTON – Rebelling Republicans in five states will push ahead with early nominating contests, undeterred by party leaders' decision Thursday to punish them by excluding half their convention delegates.
Seeking to restore order to a chaotic primary calendar, GOP Chairman Mike Duncan said New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming would lose delegates to next summer's national convention for violating party rules against holding nominating contests before Feb. 5.
"No one wants to be in a position to penalize anyone, but our rules are self-enforcing," Duncan told reporters. "They give me no options."
Iowa, which plans to hold Republican caucuses on Jan. 3, would not be penalized because, technically, the caucuses are not binding on convention delegates. Nevada, which plans to hold its caucuses on Jan. 19, would not be penalized for the same reason.
The Republican National Committee voted 121-9 Thursday to impose the penalties. Duncan, who has final say over the matter, said he would go along.
The states "were made fully aware of what the consequences would be," he said.
Nevertheless, state party leaders expressed optimism that their entire delegations would be seated, perhaps hoping the eventual nominee would restore them.
At the national convention, a committee on credentials accepts the official list of delegates in attendance, a usually perfunctory process that could become contentious.
"I remain confident that all of Michigan's 60 national delegates will be seated next year in Minneapolis-St. Paul," Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said. "There will be much discussion in the coming months about the makeup of the national convention, including the credentialing of delegates."
Wyoming is scheduled to hold its nominating conventions on Jan. 5. Michigan is to hold its Republican primary on Jan. 15, followed by South Carolina on Jan. 19 and Florida on Jan. 29.
New Hampshire has not yet set a primary date, though it is required by state law to hold its primary at least seven days before any other, raising the possibility of a December vote.
The Republican nominee for president will have to win a majority of the 2,380 delegates to the convention.
Under Duncan's action, Florida would lose 57 delegates, Michigan 30, South Carolina 23, Wyoming 14 and New Hampshire 12.
Both parties have struggled to control their primary calendars. The Democrats have voted to strip Florida of all its convention delegates for scheduling its primary on Jan. 29, and the party could do the same to Michigan if it goes ahead with a Jan. 15 vote.
Florida Democrats have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the punishment.
Democratic rules allow four states to hold votes before Feb. 5: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Republican rules, adopted at the 2004 national convention, do not allow any exceptions.
Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer argued to RNC members that Florida is not violating the rules. The state's convention delegates will not be selected during the primary, but they will be allocated to the presidential candidates.
"While not surprised, I was disappointed that the full committee did not recognize the validity of Florida's position that it is not in violation of the rule," Greer said. "This is a long process and I continue to be confident that Florida will ultimately seat its full delegation."
However, Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett, who was appointed by Duncan to review each state's plan to select delegates, said Florida's plan violates the rules because it allocates delegates to candidates.
"Florida is out of compliance because it is holding a binding primary," he said.
South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson said the party there continues to consider some type of legal challenge. However, he said the loss of delegates is nothing compared to "600,000 or 700,000 people getting their voices heard around the world."
"What South Carolina gets from a Republican primary that's first in the South far outweighs any internal considerations," he said.
A decision on a legal challenge won't come until after the primary, Dawson said.