Campaigns at Christmas looking more possible

By Steve Peoples And Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 6 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas autographs a sign after speaking students at the University of New Hampshire's Manchester campus, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, in Manchester, N.H.

Jim Cole, Associated Press

EXETER, N.H. — Nevada's jump ahead in the GOP presidential nominating calendar has prompted new rounds of finger pointing, insider wrangling and political threats. But some Republicans worry the biggest losers may turn out to be voters.

Republicans in the Western state announced earlier this week that they would hold their caucuses on Jan. 14, a shift that triggered a domino effect forcing other states to rethink the timing of their own contests. And now, despite private warnings from Republican officials in Washington, it's looking more and more likely that Iowa and New Hampshire could schedule the nation's first presidential voting for the height of the coming holiday season.

A late December timeline — a month sooner than expected and two months earlier than the Republican National Committee had wanted — would be unprecedented in the modern history of presidential politics. And it would certainly inject an unwanted political element into Christmas shopping and New Year's Eve festivities.

"You'll be getting candidate fliers with your Christmas cards," says Phyllis Woods, a New Hampshire member of the RNC who is monitoring the situation closely.

The timing also has a direct impact on campaign strategy and each voter's ability to scrutinize the Republican candidates fighting for the right to compete against President Barack Obama in 13 months.

"It's not doing the voters a great service having these primaries moved up a month," said John Hikel, a New Hampshire state representative. "I don't understand it. There are important stops these candidates need to make that there won't be time for."

Nevada is among a host of states that violated party rules by pushing up their elections to garner more influence in the presidential nominating process. It's unclear whether there will be any consequences. An RNC spokesman declined to comment publicly Thursday.

The spotlight now turns to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has the sole discretion to schedule the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary. Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said he would like to schedule Iowa's caucuses for Jan. 5, hoping that Gardner sets the New Hampshire primary for Jan. 10.

That could be optimistic.

"I'm not sure that we've seen everything yet. And I really don't want to start speculating about what we might do," Gardner said.

He said he may schedule the primary for December or on a non-Tuesday in early January. "I'm going to set the date at a time that I believe will honor the tradition of being first."

Gardner, who has set eight primary elections over the last three decades, said he is not likely to make a decision before Oct. 17. Strawn said he would make a decision in the next week to 10 days.

One consideration is a provision in New Hampshire law that directs Gardner to schedule the primary at least seven days before any other similar contest. It remains to be seen whether Gardner will interpret the Nevada election — which entail caucuses — as "similar" or not. Recent history offers a handful of examples of a New Hampshire primary less than a week before caucuses in other states.

Republican officials in Washington privately warned Thursday that New Hampshire's status as the nation's first primary state could be jeopardized if Gardner schedules the vote too early. New Hampshire officials largely shrugged off the warning, noting that national Republicans have shown little ability to control state parties.

The political squabbling, however, may mean little to voters in early voting states, who will miss out on several weeks of up-close flavor that has come to define Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns.

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