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SC GOP ramps up pressure on Florida to keep primary calendar intact

COLUMBIA, SC - The South Carolina GOP did not announce its January primary date, as had been expected, at a press conference Thursday morning.

SC GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said he would hold out on making a final announcement about the date of the South Carolina Republican primary until Florida formalizes the date of its own primary. Connelly explained that he'd gotten indications from the Republican National Committee (RNC) that there's still a chance that Florida might change its date back to February, which would keep the existing schedule mostly intact.

Connelly's calculation is that, if he were to have announced a January date for his state's primary today, he would have been complicit in the violation of the rules for primary dates established by the RNC. He wants to hold out on declaring a final, drop-dead date until tomorrow, when Florida will announce the official date of its primary. (Florida's House speaker has indicated that a state legislative panel is likely to move its primary to Jan. 31.)

Connelly said Thursday that his intentions are to force Florida's hand.

"Today, I want to announce that the ball's in Florida's court," Connelly said at a press conference.

Connelly told NBC that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has been pretty insistent that there's still a chance Florida might change its date. But Connelly also said, though, that Florida's national committeewoman, Sharon Day, was less optimistic than Priebus.

Upon hearing the news of the Georgia primary going March 6, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said, "Well, I guess it's up to Florida." He remains committed to having a one week buffer on each side of the NH primary but realizes this is a challenge if Florida goes Jan 31.

If he had to move the date up, however, Connelly said he'd be inclined to keep it as close to Florida's date as possible so that, if Florida sticks with Tuesday the 31st, SC would be the Saturday before, because SC voters turn out better on Saturdays.

In neighboring Georgia, the AP reported that the state announced that it would hold its primary on March 6, the date on the primary calendar shaping up to be 2012's "Super Tuesday."

When asked whether holding SC primary so close to FL's would diminish SC's influence, Connelly said candidates ignore SC at their own peril.

"My inclination right now is to keep the calendar as intact, and give some pressure relief especially to the really early states and go as late as I can and as close to whoever pushes the calendar up as possible. So there is no magic bullet about the 7-day window. And I'm more inclined to put it right in front of them.

"Our voters turn out better on Saturdays. And if they pick a Tuesday, I imagine I'd go on the Saturday before."

Connelly also said he's been told by the RNC that the carve-out states would not be penalized, for moving up to January (against RNC rules) as much as Florida will be for moving up before March 6th. SC is trying to avoid a scenario in which they would lose half their delegates to the national convention. Connelly warned he would "pitch a hissy-fit" if South Carolina faced sanctions.

Connelly said he's been talking with the Republican Party of Florida (RPOFL) for months about moving in tandem but those talks seem to have disintegrated for two reasons: 1) the passing of the RPOFL chairman, who had to be replaced very quickly 2) as Connelly puts it, he didn't realize that the RPOFL was "basically unable to influence" the decision of the 9-person Florida primary committee.

He said he talked to Gov. Rick Scott who liked the idea of keeping the dates in tandem but Scott said those decisions weren't up to him.

Updated at 11:58 a.m. to include new quotes. NBC's Jo Ling Kent contributed reporting from Concord, N.H.