JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Republicans were to consider Thursday bailing out from a planned state February presidential primary that has threatened to sow confusion for the 2012 election calendar by prompting other states to elbow to the front of the campaign line.
State law sets Missouri's presidential primary on Feb. 7, which would make it the second in the nation after Iowa's caucuses and could prompt other states to bump up their contests to jump ahead of Missouri.
The Democratic and Republican parties have pressed states not to crowd into the early weeks of 2012 and threatened to subtract half the national convention delegates of those doing so. But attempts to push Missouri's GOP primary to March have faltered in the state legislature.
The Missouri Republican State Committee was to meet Thursday and could consider using caucuses held in March or later instead of the state's early February presidential primary election. National party rules allow Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to go in February and require that other states wait until at least March for their contests. Missouri would risk losing half its 52 Republican delegates by jumping the gun.
Missouri Republican leaders previously have said they do not want to disrupt the national nominating process and were considering options to avoid that, including steps that do not require approval by the Republican-controlled legislature. States face a Saturday deadline for scheduling their presidential primaries.
Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith said earlier this week that it has become obvious the GOP "will take necessary steps to select our delegates to the national convention in a way other than the primary." Smith did not specify what those steps could be.
No matter what, Missouri currently is scheduled to hold an election Feb. 7 — even if it is not used to award delegates to candidates.
"Unless there is a change in state law, state law is clear that there shall be a presidential preference primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February," said Laura Egerdal, a spokeswoman for the Missouri secretary of state's office.
The secretary of state's office said Missouri's 2008 presidential primaries — which had competitive contests among Republicans and Democrats — cost about $7 million. More than 1.4 million votes were cast. In 2004, only Democrats held a competitive election, and the presidential primary that year cost about $4 million with roughly 543,000 people voting.
The early presidential primary scheduled in Missouri has threatened to cause ripples throughout the country.
Florida could set its primary date on Jan. 31, as part of an effort to be the fifth state to vote for presidential candidates, according to the Florida House speaker. A state commission responsible for setting Florida's presidential primary was expected to choose Friday.
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have said they could move their contests earlier if necessary to stay ahead of other states.
"Any states breaking the rules hurts them and hurts us as well," South Carolina GOP executive director Matt Moore said. "We're going to take a hard stand with the other three states in restoring order to the calendar."