Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says the delegates to be awarded in Florida's primary might be divided up proportionally among the candidates, rather than awarded en masse to the winner, thereby diluting the state's impact on the nominating process.
If that happens, the Florida primary winner could be awarded 15 to 20 delegates instead of 50, cutting the value of a victory.
The potential penalty is in response to the Florida GOP's decision to set the primary for an earlier date, Jan. 31, in violation of party rules.
In a letter to state Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry, Priebus also raised the possibility that the Florida delegation to the 2012 convention in Tampa could get less-than-choice locations for its hotel accommodations and convention floor seating, and reduced guest passes and VIP privileges.
Many members of the Republican National Committee are angry that Florida, in a bid to have a bigger impact on the nomination, moved up its primary date to Jan. 31, a violation of party rules intended to delay the start of the primary season.
Under RNC rules, Florida Republicans already lose half their convention delegates, getting 50 instead of the standard 99, for holding a primary prior to March 6.
Those rules also state that any primary before April 1 must use proportional delegate allocation. Nonetheless, the state party proposed a winner-take-all delegate allocation plan, and the RNC hasn't pushed the issue.
Priebus's letter indicates the party may be forced to act because of protests filed by its members.
"It has come to my attention that one or more Florida voters may file a contest seeking proportional allocation of Florida's delegation based on the primary taking place prior to April 1," Priebus said in the letter.
"Furthermore, it is entirely possible that the Standing Committee on Rules will impose discretionary sanctions related to your state's seating, guest passes and VIP privileges, and hotel location at the convention."
One Florida GOP activist, who backs Ron Paul in the primary, already has filed a protest with the party over the delegate allocation, and other protests may come from RNC members in other states.
The move could be important to candidates because proportional allocation would allow the second- or third-place finishers to win some delegates.
Republican Party of Florida spokesman Brian Hughes did not offer comments from the state party on the letter.