PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Friday she would not move up the state's presidential primary by nearly a month, avoiding at least for now a high-profile spat in the Republican Party over the schedule of the 2012 White House race.
The Republican governor told The Associated Press, however, that she'll leave open the option of moving the primary earlier than the current date of Feb. 28, just not as early as Jan. 31.
"Sometime after the 31st is still possible," Brewer said in an interview. "I'm going to keep looking at that, to see what fits our best interests."
She also announced the Republican National Committee has tentatively agreed to schedule one of the debates among GOP presidential candidates in Arizona. Brewer had indicated Thursday that she might back off the plan to move the primary if the state could host a presidential debate.
"It's a big win for Arizona and a big win for America so that we can have our issues discussed," Brewer said in an interview, citing concerns on border security, Medicaid and education. "Now is the time."
Brewer's suggestion that she would move up the primary may have represented "an outrageous first offer" in a bid to get a debate, said Josh Putnam, a visiting assistant professor at Davidson (N.C.) College who monitors and blogs on the scheduling of presidential nominating contests.
"This seems like something of a negotiation," Putnam said.
Brewer said her decision did not hinge on getting a debate, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus referred to the debate as a "second topic" in a letter to Brewer that also addressed scheduling of the primary.
In the letter obtained by The Associated Press, Priebus said Arizona will lose half of its 2012 convention delegates because even the Feb. 28 date is too early under RNC rules. There is no provision for a waiver, he told Brewer in the letter.
The letter confirmed that RNC officials had preliminarily authorized a debate in Arizona, subject to consideration of a formal application due from the state party.
Under state law, which requires any change to be made at least 150 days in advance, Saturday was the deadline to change the primary to Jan. 31.
Brewer's decision was closely watched because it could have created a domino effect in the White House election calendar. Other states may have moved their contests to get ahead of Arizona.
Iowa is scheduled to hold its caucuses on Feb. 6, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 14, the Nevada caucus on Feb. 18, the South Carolina primary on Feb. 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6.
Arizona law lets governors move up the primary date, and Brewer disclosed in late July that she was considering a change to give the state a greater platform to bring attention to issues such as immigration.
The state Republican Party's chairman, Tom Morrissey, called the debate an "exciting opportunity" for voters to scrutinize the candidates "and make certain that issues critical to Arizona and the Southwest are addressed in a serious and substantive matter."
Several presidential candidate debates have been held in Arizona. The general election nominees debated in Arizona in October 2004, and Republican primary election candidates debated twice in the state in late 1999.