Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Bill Gardner's Statement Really Means

The instant reaction to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner's press release -- Why New Hampshire's Primary Tradition is Important -- today has been about what he said.1 More telling from FHQ's perspective is what he didn't say. The state he cited was Nevada; that for New Hampshire to be able to fit into the 2012 calendar year would require the Nevada Republican Party to reset the date of the party's caucuses for Tuesday, January 17 at the earliest. That would allow New Hampshire to hold a January 10 primary, and all would presumably be right with the world.

But Gardner only mentioned Iowa in passing, saying that with "Iowa officials tentatively decid[ing] that their caucuses would be on that date [January 3]," New Hampshire would be left with no other recourse than to hold a primary in December. To FHQ that signals a couple of things:

First, it possibly demonstrates that the game of chicken with the Iowa GOP is either not going at all or is not going at all well for New Hampshire at the moment. With Nevada Republicans set for January 14 caucuses, that should have settled the score between Nevada and New Hampshire. As FHQ has mentioned, that shifted the process to a battle over the last spot in January between Iowa and New Hampshire. The only outcome that keeps both states in 2012 and is consistent with New Hampshire state law -- that does not also include a Nevada move -- is for New Hampshire to take the January 3 slot and for Iowa to hold caucuses a week later. Either that has been a nonstarter for the Iowa Republican Party or Secretary Gardner has yielded to custom: Iowa first, New Hampshire second. If it is the former, Iowa has essentially called Gardner's bluff on going in December. That the secretary has shifted back to discussing the position of Nevada's Republican caucuses indicates that he does not want to trigger the nuclear option. Again, in the short term, that may keep New Hampshire as the first primary, but in the long term, a December contest blows up the current system or at least puts the privileged positions of the early states on trial.

That is at least part of the calculus in New Hampshire right now. But it could be that Gardner wants to keep the current line up and is lobbying Iowa and perhaps South Carolina to gang up on Nevada to maintain the status quo in the future. Let's call this an olive branch to Iowa. Gardner is basically ceding January 3 to Iowa, but knows that Democrats and Republicans in the Hawkeye state want to preserve their position. A December primary won't hurt just hurt New Hampshire; it will hurt all the early states. By giving Iowa January 3, but continuing to threaten to hold a December primary, Secretary Gardner is upping the pressure on Iowa (and South Carolina) to come to the fore and twist some arms in Nevada.

That's a clever little twist to all of this.

In sum, Gardner is signaling today that he doesn't really want to pull the trigger on a December option, but has given Iowa January 3 while keeping December on the table as a means of increasing the collective early state pressure on Nevada. No, as some have pointed out, the RNC has no real ability to arbitrate this, but three on one early state vigilante justice might serve the same purpose.

1 Here is the text of the press release from the New Hampshire secretary of state's office:
Why New Hampshire is First 10.12.11

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Anonymous said...

federal law requires ballots be printed and sent to overseas troops 45 days in advance of the election. Given that, and the filing period of October 17-28, is a December primary a realistic option?


Josh Putnam said...

This continues to be a fascinating question with implications that are not completely understood. The waiver precedents from 2010 seem to indicate that New Hampshire can have the primary in December, but would have to send ballots out by express mail (Hawaii) and to allow extra time on the backend to ensure that the votes are counted (Wisconsin).

Those are costs that New Hampshire would gladly incur in order to keep their position.

Jeff Winchell said...

Can someone tell me why South Carolina had to have a PRIMARY on a Saturday, TEN DAYS before Florida? Last year Florida ran on Jan 28 and Iowa was on Jan 3. This year Florida goes 3 days later, but South Carolina still insists on going 10 days earlier. If you ask me, the problem isn't Nevada, it is South Carolina.

Anonymous said...

Saturday Jan. 7, leave the polls open til 9pm to accommodate sabbath observers. Seems like the obvious choice. Why on earth would Nevada GOPers move their date so that New Hampshire preserves its own influence? New Hampshire going before Christmas would just make Iowa and Nevada more important.