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Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) -- New Hampshire, prompted by Florida’s decision to hold its primary on Jan. 31 in defiance of national Republican Party rules, is threatening to advance its presidential nominating contest to this year’s holiday season.
“If we have to go in December, we’re going to go in December, because our law and our tradition is going to be upheld,” New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner said in an interview yesterday. He was referring to New Hampshire’s customary status as the state conducting the nation’s first primary.
Gardner said following Florida’s decision that he is moving up the filing period for candidates to qualify for the New Hampshire contest “because we cannot rule out the possibility of conducting the primary before the end of this year.” Candidates will have to file paperwork Oct. 17-28 to be on New Hampshire’s ballot.
While primary calendar experts and Republican officials doubt the nominating process will start before year’s end, Gardner’s reaction underscored the degree to which Florida’s move -- cemented by a state commission’s 7-2 vote -- has the potential to set off a domino effect among states, accelerating the presidential calendar.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is still talking to states about the timing of their contests, senior party officials said prior to today’s deadline for the committee to submit primary plans.
Gardner said he didn’t intend to submit anything, given the uncertainty now surrounding the primary schedule.
The Florida panel’s goal was to “put Florida in a prominent position on the primary calendar and in the election overall,” Chris Cate, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said in an interview.
Lenny Curry, chairman of Florida’s Republican Party, said the date “properly reflects the importance Florida will play on the national stage.” In a statement, Curry said Florida -- which will host the Republican convention next August in Tampa - - “will be the most important state in our efforts to defeat” President Barack Obama in the general election.
Holiday Season Crunch
Florida’s move is likely to shift the start of voting in the Republican race a month earlier than national party leaders had intended, condensing a number of important contests into January and creating a holiday-season campaign crunch that officials and candidates had hoped to avoid.
Still, the party said its objective of creating a more inclusive, broad-based nominating process was being met.
“While the primaries will now start earlier than planned, the overarching goal of the current rules was to allow more states and voters to have a role in choosing the next Republican nominee for president,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are now expected to move up the dates of their nominating contests to early or mid-January to maintain their status as the first four states voting in the race. The Iowa caucuses, which traditionally start the process, were tentatively set for Feb. 6.
Chad Connelly, chairman of South Carolina’s Republican Party, has said he wants to set his state’s contest as late as possible in the process while still ahead of Florida -- probably Jan. 28 -- so that its primary remains the first in the South.
The RNC has forbidden any except the traditional first four from setting a primary date prior to March 6. According to its rules, any state that leapfrogs that date will lose half of its delegates to the convention. The threat has proved unconvincing in past campaigns because a nominee can request that disqualified delegates’ voting rights be restored, and Florida Republican leaders were unmoved by the possible penalty.
“Making certain that Florida and its unique and diverse voters are critical players in the overall selection process of the next president is more important than a possible reduction in the number of delegate votes,” Florida House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican and a member of the commission, said in a statement after the vote on the primary date.
Florida held its primary on Jan. 29 in 2008, and Arizona Senator John McCain’s victory there helped seal his eventual nomination in the Republican race. To keep their status as sites of the initial nomination contests that year, Iowa held its caucuses Jan. 3 and New Hampshire followed with its primary five days later, spurring complaints that the contests were too close to the holiday season and to each other.
March 6 for Georgia
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced two days ago his state would hold its primary on March 6, to keep its relevance in the nominating process without breaking party rules.
“I want to stress that we have committed in good faith by abiding by the rules set forth by the RNC, so that Georgia will not suffer a loss of delegates, and I highly encourage the RNC to enforce the rules,” Kemp said.
If states that flout the scheduling requirements aren’t penalized next year, Georgia would disregard the rules in the future, Kemp said. “There’s going to be hell to pay, if you will, in four years.”
Two other states have already ignored the rules to jump ahead on the primary calendar. Arizona and Michigan have said they will set their balloting for Feb. 28. 2012.
--Editors: Don Frederick, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at Jdavis159@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org