ATLANTA -- Georgia's top election official is trying to figure out how to give the state as much influence as possible in the selection of the Republican nominee for president.
Earlier this year, the Legislature gave Secretary of State Brian Kemp the power to set the state's presidential primary, sometime before the second Tuesday in June. The decision is an important one: If he plays his cards right, Georgia's primary could draw candidates to the state, giving it political clout and generating money for the state Republican party.
"We obviously would like to pick a day where candidates would come and campaign in Georgia and we could talk to them and ask them questions about their positions and things that are important to us here, like ports and infrastructure and jobs and the economy," Kemp said.
Kemp said he has sought input from the state Republican and Democratic parties and the candidates' campaigns. Now he's considering many different scenarios.
It's often an advantage to be early in the game, but the state risks losing half its delegates to the national convention under rules of both the Republican and Democratic national committees if Kemp sets the primary before March 6. It could also be beneficial to hold the primary later if the race is still tight toward the end -- Georgia could be a big prize for a candidate looking to tie up the nomination.
University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said Georgia should probably try to go earlier rather than later. But the state should also learn from 2008, when official moved up the primary by a month but ended up holding it the same day as New York and California. Those states received far more attention from the national media and candidates.
"Ideally we would like to be the biggest fish in that pond for that day," Bullock said.
The Legislature gave Kemp until Dec. 1 to decide, but the national party has asked states to decide by Oct. 1.
Kemp hopes to set a date as soon as possible but said he'd like to see what other states are going to do. He said he is prepared to go down to the deadline if necessary.
A special committee that will pick Florida's primary date met Friday and decided to delay its decision for a week. Many of that state's Republican leaders are pushing to make Florida the fifth state to hold a primary next year. That means it would have to be before Feb. 28, when Arizona has scheduled its primary.
Michigan's governor is expected to also approve a Feb. 28 primary.
That date breaks Republican National Committee rules, and so would an earlier date in Florida or Georgia. The GOP wants no primaries or caucuses held before March 6 except for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Georgia Republican party chair Sue Everhart said she'd rather Kemp not decide to violate the national party rules because she wants the state to have the full power of all of its convention delegates.
"With 76 delegates, we'll have a lot to say," she said. "Our people are fired up to get a Republican president. They want to send Obama back to Chicago, and they are ready to go to the national convention to cast their ballots for the next president of the United States."
Kemp said it was wise of legislators to give him the power to set the state's primary date because it means Georgia has more flexibility than if the Legislature had set it during the spring session.
"It has put us in a position where, if nothing else, people are talking about Georgia being part of this process, and we're going to try to pick a date that makes that happen," he said.