Earlier this week, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner indicated that he might consider setting a Presidential primary date as early as Dec. 6 unless Nevada moves back the date of its caucuses to January 17th or later.
Gardner, who has set the date of New Hampshire’s “first-in-the-nation” primary since 1976, issued a memo on Wednesday calling both Tuesday, Dec. 6, and Tuesday, Dec. 13, “realistic options” unless Nevada agrees to its nomination contests after Jan. 17.
Florida’s recent rescheduling of its primary to Jan. 31, which we reported in our Oct. 3 edition, is the action that set the dominoes in motion. As a result of the Sunshine State’s action, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina have all moved up the dates of their primaries to maintain their status — in that order — as the first nominating contests in the 2012 cycle. Gardner has sent an early signal that the New Hampshire date will be significantly earlier by moving up the Granite State’s candidate filing period to open on Oct. 17 and close 11 days later on Oct. 28.
South Carolina has set its primary for Jan. 21, and Nevada officials have already set its caucus for Jan. 14. Iowa officials have indicated that Jan. 3 is going to be the date of the nation’s first caucus.
Gardner is bound by a New Hampshire state law requiring the Secretary of State to set their primary at least one week before any other nominating contest that would undercut the state’s much cherished “first-in-the-nation” primary status.
Gardner’s memo clearly states, “If Nevada does not adjust its caucus date to a later time, I cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary.”
Gardner subsequently told news organizations that he will not set the presidential primary date until sometime after Oct. 17.
“When I set the date, I will explain all the reasons why it ends up on that date. It’s not my preference to put it in December. The problem is all of our choices are bad choices. I just want to be pick the best of the bad,” he told NBC News last Friday.
As we reported on Oct. 3., Florida’s move, which set off this chain reaction, to change its primary date to Jan. 31 in violation of Republican National Committee rules looks to drastically alter the GOP presidential nomination fight. Under RNC rules, the only states permitted to conduct a delegate selection event prior to the March 6th Super Tuesday date are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Florida is willing to accept penalties that will reduce their 99 member Republican National Committee delegation to approximately 50, coupled with other sanctions, in order to make the move.
But accepting intra-party punishment is not the only factor involved in altering their election schedule. Under the Voting Rights Act, all or parts of 16 states are subjected to federal approval of all electoral moves, including primary/caucus date selection. Therefore, it is the Obama Justice Department that will have to grant Florida, New Hampshire, and South Carolina “preclearance” or, in this case, permission to schedule a nominating event in January 2012. Only Iowa and Nevada, in this group of five states, may move unencumbered because they are not part of the group of 16.
At this stage, it’s anybody’s guess how this calendar hopping might affect the outcome of these early nominating contests, but clearly the present front-runners, especially Mitt Romney, who polls show has now opened up a large lead over the rest of the Republican field, might like the nominations to be held sooner rather than later. This way, the vote will occur before the recently fickle GOP primary electorate has a chance to change its mind again.