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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Four U.S. states holding contests early in 2012 to choose the Republican presidential nominee threatened on Thursday to leapfrog Florida if it goes ahead with a primary election date of January 31.
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are the only four states permitted by the Republican National Committee (RNC) to hold primaries or caucuses earlier than March 6, the date dubbed "Super Tuesday" with contests in multiple states.
Florida's announcement on Wednesday that it wanted to hold its primary in January started a game of leapfrog among states to assert their influence in picking the nominee and to draw millions of dollars in candidate spending.
As it currently stands, the Iowa caucuses are set for February 6, the New Hampshire primary for February 14, the Nevada caucuses for February 18 and the South Carolina primary for February 28.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn issued a statement indicating the four states' plan to stick together in their efforts to keep their early contest spots.
"The four sanctioned, early states have been very clear that we will move together, if necessary, to ensure order as outlined in RNC rules. If we are forced to change our dates together, we will," Strawn said.
Florida must make its January date official before South Carolina will move up its primary and face the penalty of losing delegate votes at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida in August, according to South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly.
"If Florida wants to be the bad boy, I am going to make them make us move," Connelly said on Thursday from the state capital of Columbia.
"I'm going to have a hissy fit at the RNC meeting in January if they make us accept penalties that other states have forced us into. It's inherently unfair."
Florida has said it will officially announce its date on Friday. The deadline for states to set their primaries is Saturday.
The chaos in the Republican presidential primary calendar could push Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses to January 2, said political scientist Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"It's ridiculous," Sabato said. "It's turning the election into the grinch that stole Christmas. Everybody's had their Christmas wiped out. It's no wonder people get sick of politics."
In the process of choosing the presidential nominees fielded by the two major U.S. political parties, candidates compete in primary elections or other contests in the states to win delegates who ultimately will pick the nominees in later party conventions.
There will be no Democratic primaries because President Barack Obama is unopposed for the party's nomination.
The Republican nominee is due to face Obama in the November 6, 2012, general election.
Editing by Will Dunham