Republican National Committee members question proposed 2012 primary change

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 3:06 PM

KANSAS CITY, MO. -- Republican National Committee members expressed doubts Thursday about a proposal to change the presidential primary schedule in 2012 to delay the start of the campaign season and extend the length of the process to involve more states.

The new schedule faces a key vote of the 168-member party's national committee Friday at the RNC's summer meeting here. For adoption, two-thirds of committee members must vote for the new schedule, which party Chairman Michael S. Steele hopes will become an important legacy of his term.

(Michael Steele's controversial record)

But committee members from North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and others rose at a party briefing of the plan Thursday to express concerns.

"What do we get out of it?" asked Ada Fisher, a committee member from North Carolina, which typically holds a later primary. She said after the briefing that she has not decided how to vote on the proposal. "How do we keep the interest of those states that are not going to be in the deciding process, probably, in play?"

Under a draft proposal for the new schedule, no state would be able to hold a primary or caucus before the first Tuesday in February 2012, in attempt to avoid a repeat of 2008, when the Iowa caucuses were held Jan. 3.

Iowa and New Hampshire would retain their status as the nation's first contests joined by South Carolina and Nevada in February. Other contests would generally be held in April or later, although states would have the option of holding votes in March, provided convention delegates chosen at those elections would be awarded to candidates in proportion to the percentage of the vote they received, rather than in a winner-take-all system.

The proposed schedule is designed to make it difficult for a candidate to rack up an insurmountable number of delegates early in the process, forcing candidates to campaign nationally over the course of weeks.

In the past, party conventions set the primary schedule for the next presidential election. But determining the 2012 schedule was handed off this year to a special RNC committee, which has been conducting negotiations for months between more and less populous states and between states that have traditionally held early votes and those that usually hold later contests.

But concerns raised by RNC members Thursday included worries from some large states that had hoped to have early primaries along with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Others questioned how rules for proportional voting will work. And some committee members said they fear that extending the nomination process would only draw out the months when Republicans, eager to take the White House from President Obama in 2012, snipe at each other instead of the opposition party.

"Making that process longer will take the focus off the Obama administration and the continued mismanagement of our country," said Pat Rogers of New Mexico, who said he's undecided on the proposal.

Steele, who is attempting to shore up support at the summer meeting after questions about his political and financial leadership of the party, told the committee members Thursday that the vote over the primary process would amount to a "test of whether we're all ready to be Republicans."

The Democratic National Committee is conducting a parallel review of its party primary schedules. The new schedule would only go into place if adopted by both parties.

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