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Karen Floyd: Fighting to keep our first-in-South primary

CM Capture 1The existing system of selecting the Republican nominee for president of the United States works well.

Wisely, it starts with small states: the first caucus in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire. Then the eyes of the nation turn to South Carolina, home of the first-in-the-South contest. It is a bellwether event in American politics.

When you think about it, South Carolina has a fantastic track record in vetting the candidates. Last year, for example, we rejected Barack Obama. Today the rest of the nation is just beginning to realize we were right.

After only nine months in office, President Obama has tripled the nation’s deficit. Unemployment continues to soar. And now he is campaigning to replace the best health care system in the world with a radical form of government-controlled medicine. Today, many wish the nation had followed South Carolina’s lead.

Looking back even further, in 1980, we launched Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Since then, no Republican has ever been nominated or elected without first winning the S.C. presidential primary.

Understandably, a number of states, including larger ones such as Florida, California, Texas and Michigan, want to play a bigger role in the nominating process and are again threatening to move their primary dates ahead of ours. Such changes would be very bad news for South Carolina and for the nation.

That is why one of my top priorities as the new chairman of the state Republican Party is to protect our state’s historic role as the first in the South. Fortunately, all the best arguments are on our side.

One reason the schedule serves the nation well is financial. Yes, obviously, South Carolina benefits from the funds the presidential primary attracts to our small state. But there are much larger financial issues involved.

The cost of running television ads in a single large city such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta or Dallas can easily reach $1 million a week or more. In South Carolina, similar television time can be purchased statewide for a fraction of the cost.

South Carolina gives all the potential candidates an affordable venue to launch their efforts. Otherwise, only candidates who are independently wealthy could afford to run. If that happens, the ideas, the charisma, the vision and the personal appeal of the candidates would all take a back seat to the money.

Geographically, South Carolina offers an ideal environment for candidates to be seen and heard. Their vision for America’s future can be carefully and personally vetted.

Columbia, our capital city, is no more than a two-hour drive from any of our 46 counties, which simplifies travel and makes bus tours, rallies and other forms of retail politics possible. We are also small enough for enterprising candidates to hold town hall meetings in every county, with opportunities for virtually every voter to attend forums, ask questions and listen to the candidates’ voices. That type of intimacy and personal contact would not be possible in larger venues.

Demographically, South Carolina is very diverse. The various regions of our state, including the Lowcountry, Midlands, Pee Dee and Upstate, offer an extremely wide mix of urban, suburban, rural, commercial and industrial communities, each reflecting sensibilities and values found all across the South and throughout the nation.

Most of all, we should remember that the ultimate purpose of a nominating process is to win elections. The Republican chosen to challenge Barack Obama in 2012 will need to raise and spend $500 million or more to be competitive in the November election.

It would be foolish to drain tens of millions of dollars from donors to pay for early GOP primaries in the most expensive states. Those funds will be badly needed in November. Like most journeys in life, it is best to start with small steps.

As we struggle to resist this unwise effort to reshuffle the presidential primary calendar, South Carolina has a useful weapon. The date of our primary is not set by the Legislature or by an agency of government. It is set by our state Republican Party.

Theoretically we can schedule our primary as early as needed to protect our status. But there could be a heavy price to pay.

If the national party rules otherwise, South Carolina could be punished for setting the primary too early. Some or all of our delegates could be denied a seat at the national convention. And with no delegates at stake, our primary would be drained of its magic.

As chairman, I am prepared to do all I can to prevent others from damaging a process that has served us well for 30 years. That is my duty, not just to South Carolina, but to the nation.
Ms. Floyd is chairman of the state Republican Party

The State