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S.C. Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly scored a major victory for the Palmetto state’s “First in the South” presidential primary on Friday when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer declined to move her state’s primary elections.

In 2009, South Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada were authorized by Republican National Committee members to hold the nation’s first GOP primaries in February 2012. Yet for the past three months, Brewer threatened to move her state’s presidential primary up to January 31, 2012 – a move that could have thrown the 2012 presidential primary calendar into chaos.

On Friday night, Brewer backed down – agreeing to hold Arizona’s primary on its previously-scheduled date of February 28, 2012 in exchange for the RNC agreeing to host a presidential debate in Arizona sometime in December.

Why did Brewer drop her bid to leapfrog the other early-voting states? Well, Connelly has spent much of his first 100 days in office dropping the proverbial hammer on Brewer and Republican National Committee insiders who were implicitly supporting Arizona’s scheme (more on this in a moment).

“I really respect the governor,” Connelly told the Associated Press on August 4. “I think she would understand the rules, since she just enforced an immigration rule against the federal government. It would be consistent for her to enforce these rules as well.”

On Friday, Connelly put his foot on the gas.

“(Arizona’s) efforts to make themselves more relevant are actually going to make them more irrelevant,” he told The Politico.

What was driving Arizona’s flirtation with an early primary date? Well, many national Republican elites are convinced that only Mitt Romney can beat Barack Obama in November 2012. Obviously, Romney is polling well in nearby Nevada and he would be competing in a state which has repeatedly sent “moderate” Republican John McCain to the United States Senate.

An early Romney win in Arizona – combined with early wins in New Hampshire and Nevada – would give the former Massachusetts governor a much clearer path to the Republican nomination. Also, a compressed calendar would give the well-funded Romney a distinct advantage over under-funded candidates including Michele Bachmann and possibly even Rick Perry, whose 2012 fundraising prowess has yet to be determined.

It takes considerable resources to compete after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina – and Romney would love for nothing more than dozens of states to hold primaries in January and early February. Such a scenario would allow him to deploy his vast personal wealth while other candidates might struggle to capitalize on their early, traditional state wins.

Obviously none of that matters when it comes to protecting South Carolina’s “First in the South” primary status – which is what Connelly was fighting for all along.

As it stands now, South Carolina’s “First in the South” primary is scheduled for late February 2012 – but don’t be surprised if more calendar drama plays out between now and then.

Obviously, we’ll keep an eye on that drama as it unfolds … but for now, Connelly has won a major victory.

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