Rep. Jim Clyburn said Florida was trying to steal South Carolina's thunder by moving up their primary date.
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn accused the Florida state legislature of "mischief" in moving up their state's primary date to Jan. 29, the same day that South Carolina Democrats are currently scheduled to hold their primary vote.
But Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and South Carolina's most powerful Democrat in Congress, said the Democratic National Committee should not punish Florida's Democratic voters for the date change. The DNC has threatened to strip Florida of its Democratic presidential delegates for violating party rules.
"I don't believe we ought to be punishing Democratic voters in Florida for what the Republican controlled legislature did down there," Clyburn said in an interview with CNN in his Columbia, South Carolina office. "I said at the time that they were doing mischief. I think they did it."
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings have filed a lawsuit challenging the DNC penalties.
"I don't ever agree with anybody suing my party," Clyburn said. "But I understand it."
Still, Clyburn was wary of Florida's motives. In moving their primary date to Jan. 29, the same day of the South Carolina Democratic primary, Clyburn said Florida was trying to steal South Carolina's thunder.
"That's exactly what Florida intended to do," Clyburn said. "But once again, you just play what hand you're dealt. We're dealt a very good hand by the national committee and of course somebody came along and trumped us. But that's not the end of the game. I think we'll be okay in the final analysis."
After months of saying she would not move the primary date, South Carolina Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler said last week that she would soon decide whether to ask the DNC and the state party's executive committee to move the primary up to Jan. 19 from its current date of Jan. 29.
Moving the primary ten days earlier will put the state's Republican and Democratic primaries on the same day. In August, South Carolina Republicans moved their primary date to Jan. 19 to stay ahead of Florida.
Many South Carolina Democrats remain concerned that Florida's decision to hold their primary on Jan. 29 will take the air out of the South Carolina vote unless the date is moved up.
The South Carolina Democratic Party's executive director Joe Werner told CNN last week that any decision to move up the South Carolina date will have more to do with concerns about following the Republican primary, and little to do with Florida's decision.
"We don't want to be overshadowed by the Republicans," Werner said. "We think turnout will fall dramatically if we're after them."
Clyburn said he didn't think voter turnout would suffer even if the Democratic primary is ten days after the Republican event, and predicted everybody involved in primary shuffling will be content with the final outcome.
"Well, nobody is going to get out in front of the [DNC] rules committee on this," Clyburn said. "I feel very comfortable that when all is said and done, South Carolina is going to be pleased. I think Florida is going to be pleased, and I think the national Democratic rules committee is going to be pleased."
For more South Carolina campaign news, check out CNN's South Carolina Political Ticker.
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby