LAS VEGAS — Nevada Republicans voted Saturday to shift the date of the state's presidential caucuses to Feb. 4 and avoid penalties from the national party for meddling with the election calendar.
It was only about two weeks ago when state party leaders set Jan. 14 for the nominating contest. They said moving the date from Feb. 18 would still give the state a big early role in determining the nominee.
But the change jumbled the election calendar and led New Hampshire to threaten to move its contest to the December holiday season. Some candidates raised the possibility they would stay away from Nevada unless the date was moved.
Nevada's January date also risked violating national party rules on nominating contests and the state could have lost delegates to the convention next year.
More than 200 members of the state party convened in Las Vegas overwhelmingly agreed to return the caucuses to February.
Former Gov. Bob List, a national Republican committeeman, urged Nevada Republicans to play peacemaker and agree to the date change.
"The candidates are anxious to come here and campaign and don't want to have the heat put on them by New Hampshire to stay away," List said. "We have to eat a little crow perhaps in some people's minds, but I think in the end it's a win-win."
Added Amy Tarkanian, Nevada's GOP chairwoman: "We just basically want to be the adults in the room here. This is not a matter of New Hampshire being a bully or telling us what to do. It's a matter of Nevada doing what needs to be done for Nevada."
The Republican National Committee had promised Nevada delegates they could sit on the floor "in the best positions," and would have prime hotel space if they made the change, Tarkanian said.
"This will be well worth it," she said. "We will be the good guys in the end because we don't need to be New Hampshire's piÑata."
New Hampshire's secretary of state, Bill Gardner, had threatened to hold his state's primary in early December to avoid wedging it between the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the Jan. 14 vote in Nevada.
Several Republican presidential candidates, including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and businessman Herman Cain, pledged their support to New Hampshire and said they would boycott Nevada's contest if it wasn't pushed back. That led the Republican National Committee to suggest that Nevada move to Feb. 4.
List said the only benefit of keeping the Jan. 14 date was to send a message to New Hampshire, "that you are not going to tell us what we are going to do."
Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina moved their contests into January after Florida said it would violate national party rules and hold its primary on Jan. 31.
But only Nevada was subject to boycott threats that Nevada Republicans initially laughed it off. They reconsidered a new date after the national chairman, Reince Priebus, began calling for a compromise.
"The voters and our candidates are well served by a nomination process that starts in 2012 and today's action is a major step toward that goal," said the GOP chairman in Iowa, Matt Strawn.
Priebus said Nevada will maintain its status as the first state in the West to vote in the presidential race.
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"Nevadans should be proud of their Republican leaders," he said in a statement. "They have restored their state's key role in the nomination process and in the 2012 presidential election.
Also Saturday, Nevada Democrats said they would hold their caucuses on Jan. 21 and South Carolina Democrats set their contest for Jan. 28. President Barack Obama is expected to win those noncompetitive contests.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who helped obtain the state's third-in-the nation status in 2008, decried the GOP's move.
"I'm deeply disappointed that the Nevada Republican Party has caved to the will of the Republican National Committee and New Hampshire," he said in a statement.