ABC News’ Michael Falcone, Amy Walter and Shushannah Walshe report:
UPDATED With reports on Wednesday that Republicans in Florida are eyeing Jan. 31 as the date for their 2012 presidential primary, other early states are already making plans to leapfrog the leap-frogger. The primary standoff has to potential to move the first primaries of the election year up a full month — from February into January.
Fiercely protective of their own place in the presidential nominating process, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — known as the “carve out states” — would almost certainly push their dates into January in response to Florida’s move.
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly plans to hold a press conference on Thursday and he told ABC News he is likely to tentatively set the date of his state’s primary in February. However, he said that he reserves the right to hold earlier “if forced,” and it appears he will be.
“I get that other states would like to bump up,” Connelly said, “But, in an effort to be more relevant, it’s just going to make everyone less relevant because a compressed calendar doesn’t benefit everyone.”
Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told CNN that a nine-member commission in Florida vested with the power to pick the state’s primary was leaning toward Jan. 31. The commission meets on Friday to set the date.
“The Republican Party of Florida is prepared to live with the decision of the committee,” Florida GOP spokesman Brian Hughes told ABC. “We’ve always stated that Florida deserves a prominent date to reflect its importance in the national landscape.”
Responding to the reports that the commission was likely settle on Jan. 31, Hughes said: “Speaker Cannon in a position to know the direction the committee’s headed. I would expect his comments reflect that direction pretty well.”
States are required to tell the Republican National Committee by Saturday when they will hold their primaries, and any non-carve-out state that chooses to hold its nominating contest before Mar. 6 faces the possibility that the RNC will strip them of half their delegates at the party’s national convention next summer. (The convention takes place in Tampa, Fla.)
“It’s frustrating as party who declares to be the party of the rule of law and then we don’t follow our own rules,” Connelly said.
The current calendar, which could change drastically depending on Florida’s decision, puts the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 6, the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 14, the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 18 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 28.
Republican Party insider and former California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring predicted that Florida Republicans are “betting the eventual Republican nominee will pressure delegates to let Florida off the hook for violating the rules.”
“It won’t be an outright pardon, but some political compromise that ultimately allows the entire delegation to be seated,” Nehring said. “It will be a slap on the wrist.”
One former Florida Republican insider told ABC that Florida’s play may be more about posturing and a “overreaction to a disappointing straw poll” than a serious proposal. Presidential candidate Herman Cain won last week’s Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando while the two frontrunners, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, finished in a distant second and third place.
Chris Cate, the communications director for Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who heads up the Presidential Primary Date Selection Committee, said his office has not “had any indication what the date will be” and that “nothing will be official until Friday.”
“The important takeaway is it’s possible that the 31st will be the chosen date, but it’s still possible that they will choose a date in February or March too,” Cate told ABC News. “But whatever they decide will be in the best interest of Florida and if they believe the 31 st is in the best interest of Florida then they will vote to have Florida’s primary on the 31st.”
Setting the primary calendar has been a roller-coaster of a process so far this year. Several other states have also threatened to jump ahead. The GOP dodged a bullet earlier this month with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer decided against holding her state’s presidential primary on Jan. 31.
In exchange for her assurances that she would hold her primary later, Brewer extracted a promise from the RNC that a GOP presidential debate would be held in her state, which she said would “make certain that the major presidential candidates travel to Arizona, speak with our voters and address issues unique to the Southwest.”