In 2010, the Republican Party changed the rules that governed the schedules for primaries and caucuses in the 2012 presidential election. The changes included allowing states that award their delegates proportionally in either a primary or caucus to hold their contests in March, but winner-take-all states have to wait until April to hold their contests. The rules basically broke down into three categories:
1. On or after February 1: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada
2. After the first Tuesday in March: states which allocate their delegates on a proportional basis
3. After the first day of April: winner-take-all states and all others
In theory, this rule change extends the nomination process for the Republicans longer than if the big winner-take-all states held their contests earlier.
But there are a number of states that did not abide by the RNC’s rules because they did not want their contests marginalized by coming too late in the spring to matter. And because the first four states—especially Iowa and New Hampshire—feel very strongly about being first in the schedule, once states starting moving their contests earlier in the year, they followed suit.
As a result, Iowa held its caucus on January 3, New Hampshire followed with its primary on January 10, and South Carolina and Florida will hold their contests before the month is out. By moving their primaries before February (or March for Florida), these states flouted the RNC rules.
The RNC can penalize states that ignored the rules by stripping them of half of their delegates at the national convention, and states affected include: Florida (99 down to 50 delegates), New Hampshire (23 to 12), South Carolina (50 to 25), and Arizona (58 to 29). Those states with early caucuses will not be penalized because they do not bind their delegates to a candidate until later in the election cycle.
So does it matter if the RNC strips the states of half their delegates? Clearly states such as Florida and Arizona did not think so, preferring to hold their contests earlier and lose half their delegates. And based on the media coverage in the lead up to the primary, Florida has retained its place on the main stage of the Republican primary with many pundits believing that winning Florida will be a crucial step in the process.