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      SC GOP condemns Florida Republicans for seeking earlier primary

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) -- South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly is condemning Florida GOP officials for seeking to break Republican rules and hold an early primary.

      Florida is poised to hold its presidential primary Jan. 31. That would likely mean an earlier start to the nominating contests than the national Republican Party wants.

      "The ball's in Florida's court," said Connelly at a Thursday news conference. "If you guys in Florida want to be the bad guys and compress this calendar and lose out for all the voters in America and have a calendar that's chaotic and compressed even if it's against your own state GOP then go for it."

      Connelly added he and his counterparts in the other traditional early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada will not allow what he called "rogue states" to dictate the calendar.

      Jump-starting the nominating process a month earlier than political leaders hoped for would move the date closer to the busy holiday season when most voters are thinking presents and parties rather than politics.

      A date earlier than March 6 for all but the four traditional early states would also violate Republican Party rules. A Republican National Committee vote last year allowed those four to vote in February.

      Connelly says South Carolina will make sure its primary is early enough to remain the first in the South, preserving a long-standing tradition that brings the national spotlight, and significant campaign spending to the state, making it the epicenter of the political world for several weeks. But, there are certain things he is not willing to do.

      "While protecting our first-in-the-South primary spot is the most important thing, I'm not going to announce a date that willingly accepts rogue states forcing us to break the rules," said Connelly.

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      Earlier this month Connelly said the state won't settle for a same-day presidential primary with Arizona after Gov. Jan Brewer proclaimed a February 28 date for her state to gain a bigger national political role.

      "After the primary process, we get neglected, we don't get the visits from the candidates," said USC political scientist Bob Oldendick. "So I think that it's very important economically and certainly on the Republican side politically, that we keep that first in the South status."

      And while South Carolina could be home to the first in the South primary, a new party rule is helping to make sure the nominee isn't completely decided in early primaries.

      The Republicans have adopted a new rule designed to extend their nominating process for the 2012 race.

      The new rule limits the ability of candidates to win large numbers of delegates in primaries and caucuses held before April. Delegates must be awarded in proportion to the votes a candidate receives. States with winner-take-all rules will have to wait until April to hold their primaries.

      In 2008, Democrats successfully rode their drawn-out battle between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama all the way to the White House.

      GOP leaders hope an extended nominating contest will energize party activists for the general election.

      There should be significant wrangling in the coming days between Florida and the early-voting states like South Carolina. States have to submit primary and caucus dates to the Republican National Committee no later than Saturday.

      However, Connelly and other state GOP leaders say that too may be a rule Florida is willing to ignore.

      Do you think the importance of a first in the South primary is worth breaking the party rules? Leave your thoughts below to weigh in.

      (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)