- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2007

Iowa Democrats are expected to adopt a plan tonight to hold their party’s caucuses on Jan. 3, and speculation is rising that New Hampshire could move its primary to early December.

The likely decision by the Iowa Democratic Party Central Committee would mean Democrats would hold their presidential nominating caucuses on the same day as Republicans. The move also could exacerbate uncertainties about January’s lineup, which has been front-loaded with contests that threaten New Hampshire’s closely guarded first-in-the-nation primary status.

For much of the year, state legislatures have been playing a political game of musical chairs with the primary calendar in a bid to boost their influence over the 2008 nominating process.

Iowa and New Hampshire have fought to preserve their traditional status as the gatekeepers of presidential elections while such states as Florida, Michigan and South Carolina have moved their primaries to earlier dates.

If Iowa Democrats join Republicans in moving their caucuses from Jan. 14 to Jan. 3, the month’s lineup shapes up this way: Iowa, Jan. 3; Michigan, Jan. 15; Nevada, Jan. 19; South Carolina, Jan. 19 for Republicans and Jan. 26 for Democrats; and Florida, Jan. 29.

That leaves the date of the pivotal New Hampshire primary up in the air.

The primary had been scheduled for Jan. 22, but under state law it must be held at least one full week before and after any other contest. That has forced Secretary of State William Gardner, who has sole authority over the date, to consider moving the primary to a much earlier date than before.

Mr. Gardner has been guarded about what he will do. But a close political ally, state Rep. James R. Splaine — a Democrat who helped write the law that preserves the state primary’s select status — has suggested it could be held as early as Dec. 11.

Mr. Splaine told reporters last week that Jan. 8 was being considered, but that would put the primary too soon after Iowa and too close to Michigan, something he called the “squish effect.”

Some New Hampshire Democrats oppose the idea of a December primary.

“No one wants to campaign around Christmas or the week before Christmas when people focus on the holidays, so that means moving it up another week into December 11,” said Jim Demers, a veteran New Hampshire campaign strategist who is working for the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

“I think it would be a disaster to hold it on December 11. It’s a month and one week after filing period closes. It’s just too early when many voters are not thinking about the elections,” Mr. Demers said.

For candidates at the back of the pack, an earlier primary would allow less time to build support.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has been trying to jump-start a campaign low on money and down in the polls, noted the problems that a December or early January primary would pose for his candidacy.

“The bottom line is: There is a possibility that New Hampshire may move up its ‘First in the Nation’ primary from early January to early December.

“That’s one full month earlier than anyone is currently planning on,” he said in a recent fundraising appeal.

Jan. 8 poses problems, too, because it would leave front-runners and runners-up only five days after Iowa to promote their victories or recover from their losses, some Democrats said.

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