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March primary date set to attract candidates, attention
Ga. to allocate delegates proportionally on Super Tuesday
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Secretary of State Brian Kemp has set Georgia's presidential primary on the multistate date in March 2012 known as Super Tuesday, hoping to attract attention and candidates to the state before the contest for the Republican nominee fizzles out.

Kemp announced Thursday that Georgians will go to the polls on March 6, joining about a dozen other states expected to cast ballots that day.

The chairman of Hall County's Republican Party praised the decision, saying it would broaden Georgia's footprint in the presidential contest.

"I'm happy about it," said Charles Lewis, the chairman of the Hall County GOP. "...It makes Georgia more influential and relevant."

Kemp said the decision protects the interests of Georgia voters and protects the integrity of the primary process.

"By holding the primary on this date, we can ensure that the voices of Georgia voters are heard and that they will be relevant in the presidential nominating process," Kemp said. "I would like to formally extend an official invitation to all the presidential candidates to visit our great state to discuss and to debate the issues with Georgia voters, just as they have done in the early caucus and primary states for more than a year."

Kemp said his decision respects the Republican National Committee's wishes, and he urged the national committee to enforce its rules as the process continues. Kemp said he has talked to RNC officials about the situation.

"They have assured me that the rules will stay in place and that the states that go early will be penalized with their delegates," Kemp said. "The leadership, including myself, here in Georgia, feels like if those rules are bent and this process gets unraveled ... I think you'll see the state of Georgia take a very strong stand next time not to worry about the rules and just pick a date that benefits our state. I think that they're going to uphold the rules. If they don't, there's going to be hell to pay, if you will, in four years."

The Republican National Party asked states to submit their primary dates by Saturday. Already, Missouri has set its date for Feb. 7, and Arizona and Michigan have set presidential primaries for Feb. 28. Florida is expected to choose its date on Friday.

Georgia Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart praised Kemp for his diligent efforts and told the GOP candidates that the "door is always open."

"There is no doubt in my mind, or the minds of nearly 10 million Georgians, that any candidate wishing to receive our state's support in next year's election must first earn it," Everhart said in a statement. "I trust that the Republican presidential candidates will consider this an open invitation to visit the Peach State."

Georgia law previously required the state to hold the presidential preference primary on the first Tuesday in February of a presidential election year. This year, state lawmakers empowered Kemp to set the primary date, with a deadline of Dec. 1.

Republican National Committee rules forbid any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from holding a primary before March 6. States that violate RNC rules are subject to losing half their delegates to the Republican Convention in Tampa, Fla, next August.

The Super Tuesday scenario means Georgia would allocate its delegates proportionally. Georgia has traditionally been a winner-take-all state.

In making his decision, Kemp said Super Tuesday emerged as the most attractive date because Georgia would have the largest number of delegates — 76 — aside from Massachusetts and Texas, the two states that are home to the current perceived front-runners in the Republican race, former Gov. Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry. Going any later could jeopardize Georgia's ability to meaningfully weigh in on the contest, Kemp added.

"I had looked at other dates in March, where there may not be quite as many states going," Kemp said. "Maybe going March 20, with Illinois. That was kind of appealing to me. A lot of people I talked to felt like after Super Tuesday, this thing may be done, or it may be narrowed down enough to where you pretty much have an idea of who the eventual nominee might be."

The move is also meant to take Georgia from being a donor state to a big player, possibly luring candidates and national media to the state in the days and weeks leading up to the primary and in the election recap. Perry is scheduled to visit Georgia on Friday.

Times staff writer Ashley Fielding contributed to this report.