Arizona fights for primary influence, violates RNC rules

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced Monday (pdf) that her home state will keep its 2012 presidential primary date scheduled for Feb. 28. Brewer's decision violates party committee rules and threatens to set off a scramble of states vying for early primary status--further accelerating the already heavily frontloaded primary schedule.

In her proclamation, the Republican governor noted her priority has been "to ensure that Arizona and its voters play an influential role in the nomination process, and that Southwestern issues are addressed by the candidates in a meaningful fashion."

"Arizona will be a player in determining our nation's next president," she stated.

Brewer had flirted with the idea of pushing the state's primary up to Jan. 31 in order to hold the first nominating contest of 2012 and exert even more influence on the primary process, since the primary field is often winnowed significantly within the first month or so of balloting. That decision would have angered several early-voting states that had been counting on soaking up public attention in the initial phase of primary voting.

But Brewer is courting plenty of controversy with the official announcement of the Feb. 28 primary date.

South Carolina is currently scheduled to hold its primary on the same date--and officials there have stated they would not be willing to share the spotlight with Arizona. Florida had also been hoping to hold the fifth nominating contest of the year, so officials will likely now use Arizona as its new barometer.

Arizona now could face penalties from the Republican National Committee, including losing half of the state's delegates at the nominating convention in Tampa, Fla. Any state other than the four designated early-voting states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) to hold a nominating contest prior to March 6 risks penalties from the national party.

The RNC had offered Arizona a carrot by agreeing to hold a presidential debate in the state, something Brewer noted Monday as a reason why Arizona will be influential in 2012. No date has yet been set for that forum.

It's still unclear which presidential hopeful would benefit most from an early Arizona primary, but national polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, polls best in the West while Texas Gov. Rick Perry leads in the South.