Republicans to tighten rules on primary calendar

January 23, 2014

This Aug. 28, 2012 file photo shows Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (Charlie Neibergall/AP, File)

The Republican National Committee is likely to greatly compress its presidential nominating process under rules passed by a key party committee Thursday, in hopes of uniting behind a stronger nominee headed into the 2016 presidential election.

The new rules will allow four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — to hold nominating contests in February 2016, a month later than those contests were held in 2012. Every other state would be allowed to hold nominating contests between March 1 and late May.

Any state that moves ahead of the allowed window would suffer penalties, including a reduced delegation to the national convention and a loss of other perks.

The goal of the rules changes is to “compress or narrow down the time that our candidates are spending slicing and dicing each other,” said Randy Evans, one of Georgia’s three representatives to the Republican National Committee.

In a new era in which future presidential nominees are unlikely to accept federal matching funds, the new rules would schedule the presidential nominating convention in June or July, at least a month earlier than in previous years. Under rules that gave major party presidential nominees tens of millions of dollars, parties in recent decades have held conventions later and later in the year.

But after then-Sen. Barack Obama opted out of the matching funds system in 2008, in order to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more than the matching funds system allowed, the likelihood that any future nominee would accept the federal limits fell to almost nil. Indeed, in 2012, neither Obama nor Republican nominee Mitt Romney accepted federal matching funds.

The earlier convention will give the eventual nominee at least an extra month to fundraise and unite the party after what is expected to be a contentious primary battle.

The rules changes came after months of meetings between members of the national committee, and survived several challenges from skeptical members with only minimal changes, despite heated debates that at times veered into personal shots. The full Republican National Committee is likely to ratify the rules changes on Friday.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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