From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
As noted earlier today, the South Carolina Republican Party announced that January 19 will be the date of its primary. In a conference call with reporters after the announcement, Chairman Katon Dawson said he needed to protect South Carolina's first-in-the-South tradition, something he has been committed to for two-and-a-half years. Dawson said he had to move the previously announced date of February 2 after Gov. Charlie Crist (R) moved Florida's primary up to January 29. "Florida has garnered a historical place themselves, and they are the ones that have precipitated this move."
He also explained why he made the announcement in New Hampshire, stating that South Carolina and New Hampshire will be the two first primaries in the country and he "focused on states that were counting primary votes" versus having caucuses. Dawson said he chose the 19th instead of the 12th to respect "the integrity of the process" -- meaning New Hampshire is still given its due respect in the vetting process of cutting down the field before other, larger, states do the job of nominating the next nominee.
"We wanted to retain the integrity of the process, and that's why we took the time to come to New Hampshire," Dawson said. "We think it's important in this process in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina to retain their historical preference and presidential politics, not just with 30-second sound bites but with town meetings."
According to Dawson, an "underdog" has the chance to succeed in states like South Carolina and New Hampshire, where personal interaction means more than how much money a campaign has. "Versus the mega-states, where you got 30 second sound-bites, it gives a candidate like Mike Huckabee a chance."
He said he's not worried about possible sanctions from the Republican National Committee -- which said any state holding a primary before February 5 would lose half of its delegates to the convention in 2008. Even though Dawson is the sixth ranking chairman in RNC, he said his responsibility is to serve the state GOP. "My loyalty and my allegiance, and the job I was elected to, is to represent the South Carolina Republican Party."
Dawson also announced another Republican debate in South Carolina will be held before the primary. The South Carolina Republican Party is expected to announce the details within 10 days.