Washington — A Republican National Committee panel approved tougher penalities Thursday for states like Michigan that move up their presidential primary dates to get more attention from candidates.
The rules committee, including Michigan member Terri Lynn Land, voted in favor of a 2016 presidential primary calendar that would force Michigan to hold its election no earlier than March 1 or risk losing about 80 percent of its delegates at the national convention, compared with 50 percent in 2012.
In the past two presidential cycles, Michigan has bucked party rules and moved up its presidential primary earlier in the season to ensure candidates spend time and money campaigning in the state, believing the influence was worth the penality.
But the tougher rules may make Michigan pause, said Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan GOP chairman who supported Michigan’s previous rule-breaking primaries.
“I have no regrets of what we’ve ever done in the past,” Anuzis said Thursday. “Future party leaders will sit down and decide what’s best for Michigan. Sometimes, breaking the rules is better for Michigan and having a greater voice at the cost of losing delegates has made sense to us. As the penalities get greater, it becomes a more costly decision.”
The rules adopted Thursday still allow the four so-called carve-out states to schedule primaries early during the month of February: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Other states can start their elections in March. Those with elections between March 1 and March 14 will award their delegates proportionally to candidates who garner at least 20 percent of the vote. States that hold elections after March 14 can award all their delegates to the winner.
In 2012, Michigan was one of five states bucking the rules. Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary, however, did prove pivotal for Michigan-native Mitt Romney, who won a hard-fought contest over Rick Santorum that gave him critical momentum going into the Super Tuesday states.
In 2012, the penalty cut Michigan’s 59 delegates to 30. The state has proportional delegation — meaning Santorum won 14 delegates to Romney’s 16 delegates despite losing the primary. By the August national convention in Tampa, Santorum’s delegates were no longer bound to vote for him because he had dropped out of the race.
Ultimately, 25 delegates voted for Romney, four for Ron Paul and one person abstained.
Under the proposed rules, Michigan’s delegate count in 2012 would have been cut from 30 to 12(nine regular delegates and three members of Michigan’s RNC.) The full RNC is expected to vote Friday on the measure.
Land said Thursday it’s too early to tell whether Michigan will follow the rules in 2016. Changing a primary date would require approval of the Legislature and the governor. Party officials could still choose to bypass a primary in favor of caucus or a convention.
“You want Michigan to matter,” Land said. “You want the candidates to come to Michigan and to understand the voters and know what our concerns are.”