In the poker game of presidential primary voting, Georgia put its hand on the table Thursday: the state’s presidential primary will be March 6, the so-called Super Tuesday.
Republican Party rules allow only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to vote before March. But Missouri has set its presidential primary for Feb. 7, Arizona and Michigan are voting February 28, and Florida will reportedly set its primary for January 31 when the committee responsible for picking the date meets Friday.
The jockeying is all about having early influence in a crowded Republican field. But the party has said it will cut convention delegations in half for states who violate the rules.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp said those penalties will lessen the influence of the states that vote early.
“All the states that are going before, that are breaking the rules, their delegates are going to be cut in half,” Kemp said. “So I think when the candidates get to Super Tuesday, there’s still going to be a lot left to play out that day, and I believe that we’ll be a big part of that process.”
The results of the presidential preference primary are used to allocate which candidate each state’s delegates will vote for at the Republican National Convention next summer. Some states award all of their delegates to the primary winner; others, like Georgia, will award delegates proportionally based on the voting results.
“Being within the rules and having our full slate of delegates on Super Tuesday, you know, when you throw out Texas and Massachusetts – which Romney’s going to win Massachusetts, Perry is going to win Texas – we’re the biggest player that day, we’ve got the most amount of delegates.”
Kemp said Georgia will have 76 delegates at the convention, and the next largest state is Tennessee with 58.
Kemp said there was no appetite for breaking party rules among Georgia’s Republican leaders and the state party.
He said he’s been assured by national party officials that the penalties for states that vote early will be enforced, unlike in 2008, when Florida and Michigan were stripped of their convention delegations for voting too soon. But both states ultimately still received a portion of their delegates.
If the rules are not strictly enforced this time, Kemp said Georgia officials will likely set whatever primary date they choose in 2016 without regard to party dictates.
Lawmakers gave Kemp the power to set the presidential primary during this year’s legislative session. State law previously set Georgia’s presidential primary as the first Tuesday in February.
State lawmakers gave Kemp until Dec. 1 to set Georgia's primary day. But the Republican National Party has asked states to submit their primary dates by Saturday.