LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Nevada Republicans on Wednesday moved up their presidential caucus to January 14, aiming to protect its status as one of the earliest contests in the race as states jostle for influence in the nominating process.

Nevada is one of four states authorized by the Republican National Committee to hold the first contests on the road to choosing the party's nominee to face President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election. The other three states are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The move by Nevada's Republicans to move up by more than a month their caucus from the previously planned date of February 18 followed Florida's decision last week to hold its presidential primary on January 31.

Florida's move, in defiance of national party leaders, was intended to boost that state's clout in picking the Republican nominee, but it left the nominating process in turmoil.

"I'm extremely pleased to finally have a firm date for a caucus that will greatly improve Nevada's standing and relevance in terms of national politics," Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian said in a statement announcing the date change.

"By establishing this date, we maintain Nevada's standing as one of the first four 'carve-out' states and as the very first in the West," she said.

Tarkanian has criticized Florida's move as "disrespectful and counter-productive," and had previously said she was working closely with representatives of the other early states for what she described as a positive resolution to the matter.

Voting had been scheduled to start with Iowa caucuses on February 6, the New Hampshire primary on February 14, Nevada caucuses on February 18 and the South Carolina primary on February 28, before Florida preempted that plan.

Even before Nevada announced its move, South Carolina Republicans said they would hold their primary on January 21.

Nevada's Republican governor Brian Sandoval has endorsed Rick Perry, giving the Texas governor a boost in a state that backed Obama in the 2008 election and has long been a swing state in national polls.

Earlier primaries and caucuses may favor former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as he has been in the race for the Republican nomination for months and has built campaign finance warchests and a national network of activists.

Tarkanian described Nevada's move as in the state's best interest.

"We are in the process of creating a caucus that will energize Republicans throughout Nevada and the West, and allow us to play a major role in deciding who will carry the fight to unseat Barack Obama and his destructive policies," she said.

Under the Republican National Committee rules, Florida will be punished for moving up its primary with the automatic loss of half of its delegates to the party's nominating convention, which will be held in Tampa, Florida, in August 2012, senior party officials said.

But New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would also lose half their convention delegates if they vote before February 1 -- diluting their clout in choosing the nominee. Iowa would not because its caucuses are nonbinding.

(Reporting by Cynthia Johnston)