New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, pictured in November 2007… (Jim Cole / Associated Press )
Caucuses at Christmas? It's an ever-more real possibility after Nevada on Thursday became the latest state to move up its nominating contest despite party efforts to delay the start of the process.
The calendar jockeying began last week with Florida's decision to set its primary for Jan. 31, more than a month before Republican Party rules allowed. State Republicans wanted to ensure their voters were fifth in the presidential pecking order behind Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
In response, South Carolina moved its first-in-the-South primary to Jan. 21. On Wednesday night, the executive committee of the Nevada Republican Party set their caucuses for Jan. 14.
"We felt that it was important for the voters of Nevada to have the opportunity to have our voice heard early," former Gov. Robert List, a member of the committee, said in an interview. "This little state that used to be a flyover state on the way to California has become a significant factor in national politics, and we enjoy that role."
The state law of New Hampshire requires its traditional leadoff primary to be held seven days before any "similar election," and the man with sole authority to set that date, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, said in an interview last week he considered Nevada to be just that.
That would mean the Granite State's primary could be no later than Jan. 7; Gardner also hasn't ruled out moving to December.
List said the Nevada committee was sensitive to the impact its move might have, but that its hand was forced by Florida starting the unfortunate chain reaction.
"I think all of us feel that these campaigns have gotten terribly long and expensive," he said.
Some candidates on Thursday blamed Mitt Romney for Nevada's move, citing media reports that his campaign pressured Nevada Republicans to move into January. Romney won the 2008 caucuses there.
List said the campaign did make that preference known to the committee, but denied it was determinative in their thinking. A Romney campaign spokeswoman said that it is the states alone that "determine when their contests will be held."
Iowa Republicans had initially planned to wait until New Hampshire acted before setting the date for their caucuses, but say they may be forced to move unilaterally -- and soon.
"What I'm hearing from Iowa Republicans last night and this morning is that we may have to go ahead and set a date," state Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said in an interview on MSNBC Thursday morning.
He also signaled a December date was not his preference.
"Having a January start would serve the voters well and the candidates well," he said.
National Republicans hope to see Gardner soften his insistence on a seven-day buffer and perhaps set the primary for Jan. 10, which could allow Iowa to avoid moving into 2011.
One Republican source said that even though Florida initiated the calendar scramble, any move by New Hampshire that would force Iowa to move in December could threaten its cherished first-in-the-nation status in future presidential years.
"Once you start talking about actually having caucuses over the holidays ... both parties are going to say this is a disaster," the Republican said.
Gardner did not set the date of the 2008 primary until late November 2007, and he told various outlets Thursday that he's in no rush to make a final determination.