By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Four states voting early in 2012 to choose the Republican presidential nominee threatened on Thursday to leap frog Florida if it sticks with a primary date of January 31.
Only four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- are authorized by the Republican National Committee to hold their primaries or caucuses earlier than March 6, known as "Super Tuesday."
Florida's announcement on Wednesday that it wanted to hold its primary in January started a game of leap frog among states to assert their influence in electing the nominee and to draw millions of dollars in candidate spending.
But 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, said 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 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."
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 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 land Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses on 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."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)