WASHINGTON - Republican leaders overwhelmingly voted Friday to shorten their presidential selection process in an attempt to minimize damage from GOP candidates attacking each other.
"This is a historic day for our party," RNC chairman Reince Preibus declared.
He said the changes would not allow Republicans to "slice and dice" each other for six months or participate in "a circus of debates." Republican candidates participated in 27 debates for the 2012 nomination.
Iowa and New Hampshire will retain their coveted spots atop the presidential primary calendar, and South Carolina and Nevada also secured top spots, as they have in the past, as part of a larger plan that could significantly reshape the 2016 presidential election.
The vote came as the Republican National Committee works to create an easier path to the White House for its next nominee roughly a year before campaigning begins in earnest for the next presidential contest. While President Barack Obama's second term began just one year ago, prospective Republican candidates already have begun visiting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that hold outsize influence because of their early positions on the primary calendar.
New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada are scheduled to host the first four contests in February 2016 under the new schedule, while the remainder of the nation's 46 states and territories would vote between early March and mid-May.
The party's national convention is expected in late June or early July, roughly two months sooner than has become the norm.
Officials from early voting states praised the plan, which establishes strict penalties for states that jump out of order, as Florida did in 2012.
Republican national committeeman Steve Duprey of New Hampshire described the changes as an "effective death penalty for any state that tries to jump the calendar."