It's official: The five states that set their 2008 presidential primaries before Feb. 5 will lose half of their delegates to the Republican convention next summer, under rules passed by the Republican National Committee in 2004.
Committee officials announced in a conference call with reporters this week that New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Wyoming and Florida will be punished with the withdrawal of half their delegates. Iowa and Nevada are exempt from the rule, because their nominating contests in January are caucuses in which delegates will not technically be awarded.
"Five states have gone outside the rules, and they've been made fully aware of what the consequences would be," said RNC Chairman Mike Duncan.
RNC officials said Florida made a vigorous last-minute pitch to keep all its delegates, making a technical claim that its Jan. 29 primary should be exempt from the rules. But Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett, who headed the RNC committee setting the delegate counts, said the vast majority of RNC committee members rejected Florida's claim. "Florida is out of compliance," he said.
The impact of the delegate losses remains to be seen. Candidates who win big states such as Florida and Michigan will, under the rules, collect many fewer delegates as rewards for their victories, but those states are looming as big prizes as much for the momentum a victory would bestow as for actual delegates. And it is conceivable that the five states could petition the eventual nominee next spring and summer to ask the party to restore their lost delegates, assuming the nominee's margin of victory allowed for such magnanimity. The nominee would then face a choice between currying favor with the punished states and perhaps irking the much larger cohort of states that dutifully stayed behind the Feb. 5 threshold.