The 2012 Republican Convention (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The Republican National Committee has set its 2016 convention dates: July 18-21. Those dates are notably more than a month earlier than the convention was held in 2012 and the earliest they have been set since 1980.

And the reasoning is clear: Candidates don't have access to general-election funds until they are officially nominated -- something that can only happen at the convention. So while Mitt Romney was the clear GOP nominee by April 2012, he ran out of cash before the late-August convention and had to take out a $20 million loan to keep it going in the meantime.

So that's set.

As for the rest of the primary calendar? That's anybody's guess.

Back in August, the Democratic National Committee set its dates for what are supposed to be the first four states in the primary process. These states generally hold their Republican and Democratic primaries on the same day:

  • Feb. 1 -- Iowa caucuses
  • Feb. 9 -- New Hampshire primary
  • Feb. 20 -- Nevada caucuses
  • Feb. 27 -- South Carolina primary

These, again, are tentative. Both parties have rules that attempt to prevent any other states from moving primaries earlier than March. But because having an early primary makes your state more important, this almost never is 100 percent successful. And all it takes is for one state to flout the rules and cause these first four "carve-out" states to move into January.

The last two primary seasons, for example, have begun with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

So will 2016 follow suit? Republicans have ramped up their penalties for violators, but it's too early to tell. Here are a few states of note and some that are worth keeping an eye on as the 2016 calendar takes shape.


This state has crashed the party each of the past two primary calendars, moving to Jan. 31 in 2012 and Jan. 29 in 2008. But the state legislature passed a law last year -- at Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) behest -- that requires the primary to be in compliance with party rules this time (i.e. in March). So it looks like Florida won't crash the party.

North Carolina

Tucked into the state's 2013 Voter ID law was a requirement that North Carolina hold its primary the Tuesday after South Carolina holds its primary (more from Frontloading HQ here). Under the DNC's carve-out calendar, with South Carolina on Feb. 27, that would be March 1.

That doesn't run afoul of party rules, but it is an issue because South Carolina generally wants its primary to have a seven-day window before the next Southern state, to assure its importance. And if it were to move earlier to try and get some space, North Carolina would have to violate party rules and move into February to comply with its own law.

New York

This state moved its 2012 primary from February to April to comply with the rules, but that change only affected 2012, and its primary is currently set for February again. That means it will need to be moved, which appears likely.


Another habitual line-stepper, Michigan held its primary on Feb. 28 in 2012 and Jan. 15 in 2008, and it's currently set for February again. But a bill moving it to March passed in the state Senate last year and is supported by the state GOP, meaning it appears likely the date will indeed move to be in compliance.

Colorado and Minnesota

These two states could have caucuses in early February. This didn't used to be a problem, because their caucuses didn't directly elect delegates, but the RNC now requires these caucuses to be binding, and thus are problematic, according to FHQ's Josh Putnam. Colorado has to choose between early February and early March, while the two parties in Minnesota must agree on an alternative to early February if the date is to be moved.


This is the one to keep an eye on, for now.

There has been a push in the state to move its primary before Iowa and New Hampshire, though it's been unsuccessful so far. Separately, the state has the option of funding a separate primary in February or holding the primary alongside its normal primary on June 28.

Wednesday night's news is key here though. States must hold their primaries at least 45 days before the convention -- i.e. early June at the latest. But the convention just moved up. So while Utah could hold its presidential primary in late June before, that doesn't work anymore.

In order to hold the primary in February, the state legislature would need to fund it. But at this point, it seems clear they'll have to fund a separate presidential primary at some point. When that will be, we'll find out.

All of which is why FHQ's current -- and very tentative -- early primary calendar looks like this. You'll notice that it begins in mid-January rather than February, as intended.

  • Jan. 18 -- Iowa caucuses
  • Jan. 26 -- New Hampshire primary
  • Feb. 2 -- New York primary, Utah primary, Colorado caucuses*, Minnesota caucuses*
  • Feb. 6 -- Nevada caucuses
  • Feb. 13 -- South Carolina primary
  • Feb. 16 -- North Carolina primary
  • Feb. 23 -- Michigan primary

Again, this is with Michigan and New York looking likely to move later and Utah up in the air.

And finally, a bunch of states are likely to hold their contests on the first Tuesday in March, likely setting up another "Super Tuesday" like we've seen the past two presidential elections. FHQ currently has seven states set for March 1: Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that caucuses must be binding.