Kansas City, Missouri (CNN) - The Republican National Committee on Friday passed an amendment that would shift the 2012 presidential calendar to later in the year and punish states that try to move up their nominating contests.
The change in party rules protects Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as the four early voting states.
But the amendment also mandates that those states hold their primaries or caucuses no earlier than February 1, 2012 - a response to the front-loaded 2008 calendar that forced candidates in both parties to spend the normally sleepy holiday season of December and January in full campaign mode.
And in an effort to discourage other states from moving up their contest dates, which could set up a so-called "national primary" that would favor better-funded presidential candidates, the amendment would punish other states who hold February contests by stripping them of delegates to the national convention.
The goal was to draw out the nominating calendar and bring it in line with that of the Democratic National Committee, which has worked with the RNC on the rules changes since last year.
The effort was backed by RNC chairman Michael Steele.
But the recommendation faced criticism from RNC members hailing from states like Michigan and Georgia with plans for early contests.
Members also squabbled over a provision that would force states holding March contests to allocate their delegates proportionally instead of a winner-take-all format. States holding contests in April or later would be winner-take-all.
But several committee members argued that the new, protracted process would give presidential candidates a chance to visit more states and shake more hands.
"This is the most important thing the committee will do in this term," California GOP chairman Ron Nehring told the assembled RNC members.
Some in favor of the amendment complained that the crowded and short 2008 calendar lent momentum to an eventual nominee - Arizona Sen. John McCain - who was out of touch with the party's base.
New Hampshire GOP chairman John Sununu, whose state will maintain its first-in-the-nation primary status under the new rules, admitted that the nominating process is flawed.
But he warned that unless rules were put in place to spread the calendar out over several months and avoid a national primary, the process would result in "the wrong nominee" who would allow President Obama "to waltz back into the White House."
The Iowa Republican Party praised the vote and said the new rules would allow candidates "to travel to more states during the presidential primary process."
The South Carolina GOP, meanwhile, cautioned that it reserves the right to move its primary forward if states other than the first four "circumvent the process" and hold votes earlier than March.
Also on Friday, the RNC ratified Tampa as the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention.