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Brewer keeps presidential primary date; Arizona faces RNC sanctions

Gov. Jan Brewer (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Gov. Jan Brewer announced today that the Feb. 28 presidential primary will remain unchanged.

Brewer issued a proclamation announcing that Arizona would hold its presidential primary on the fourth Tuesday of February – as currently required by statute – despite the likelihood that the Republican National Committee will strip the state of half its delegates to next year’s GOP convention.

The date, however, violates RNC rules, meaning the state will likely lose half of its delegates to the Republican National Convention. RNC rules dictate that any state except Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire or South Carolina that holds its primary before the first Tuesday in March would face such a penalty.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said there was little the governor could have done to avoid the RNC penalty, outside of calling a special session of the Legislature. Under state statute, the governor can move the primary date earlier but cannot push it back without legislative approval.

“If she had her preference, she certainly would rather the state not lose any of its delegates. But the state didn’t seem to have many options because moving into compliance with the RNC rules would have required a change in state law, and that wasn’t a road that the governor wanted to go down,” Benson said.

The primaries determine who wins the votes of each state’s delegates at the Republican National Convention, with those votes determining which GOP candidate will win the party’s nomination and face President Barack Obama in November 2012.

But if the RNC follows through on its vow to penalize any state that violates party rules, candidates may not do much campaigning or use many resources to win the Arizona primary if its delegate count is too small to make much of an impact in the race.

RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney said Arizona would still be subject to the rule stripping it of half its delegates. “The rules are the rules,” he said.

Brewer said the Feb. 28 primary date would “ensure that Arizona and its voters play an influential role in the nominating process and that Southwestern issues are addressed by the candidates in a meaningful fashion.”

“I am confident both goals will be realized, given this primary date and the RNC’s preliminary selection of Arizona for a GOP presidential debate,” Brewer said in a press statement. “Arizona will be a player in determining our nation’s next president. Over the next 14 months, the candidates would be wise to meet with our voters and become familiar with our issues. Many of these issues – whether illegal immigration, the housing crisis or Medicaid reform – have national implications.”

Brewer had initially contemplated moving the primary to Jan. 31, which would have made it one of the earliest primaries in the country. But she announced on Sept. 2 that she would not push the primary up that far, and instead said she had a tentative agreement with the RNC to hold a presidential debate in Arizona.

In a Sept. 2 letter to Brewer, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the RNC’s Debate Committee passed a motion to preliminarily sanction a presidential debate in December sponsored by the Arizona Republican Party. But Priebus said it was incumbent upon the state GOP or another organization to put the event together.

A spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party could not be reached for comment.

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