NH primary won't be later than Jan. 12
By JOHN DISTASO
Senior Political Reporter
CONCORD – New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation Presidential primary will be no later than the second week of January -- more than two weeks earlier than in 2004 -- courtesy of the South Carolina Republican Party.
Katon Dawson, the outspoken chairman of the South Carolina GOP, stood in the Executive Council chambers of the State House yesterday with Secretary of State William Gardner, New Hampshire primary protection law sponsor Rep. James Splaine, D-Portsmouth, state GOP chief Fergus Cullen and other elected officials to announce that his party's state-financed primary will be held on Saturday, Jan. 19.
It had originally been scheduled for Feb. 2, but Dawson said Florida's recent move to jump its primary to Jan. 29 infringed on his party's "first-in-the-South" tradition and prompted the move.
New Hampshire law requires the nation's leadoff primary to be held seven days ahead of any "similar election," and Gardner, who administers the law, made it clear yesterday that the South Carolina GOP balloting "will certainly trigger our law."
Dawson's decision means, then, that the New Hampshire Primary will be held no later than Saturday, Jan. 12 -- 10 days before the date set for it by the Democratic National Committee under threat of sanctions to the state Democratic Party and Democratic candidates who campaign here.
A new tweak in the New Hampshire Primary law this year allows the election to be held any day of the week. Gardner said he prefers to keep it on a Tuesday, but said another day "is not beyond the realm of possibility."
Gardner would not say yesterday when New Hampshire will hold its primary, and he said he did not know for certain when he will set the date.
But if it is on a Tuesday, it is now likely to be on Jan. 8. That would push Iowa's first caucus in the nation to either New Year's Eve or possibly before the holidays, perhaps as early as Dec. 17, if it honors its own law requiring its caucus to be held eight days before any other caucus or primary.
"There's nothing I can do or even think about until I know what New Hampshire is going to do," Ray Hoffmann, the Republican Party chairman in Iowa, told The Associated Press. "As far as I'm concerned, we are going to be No. 1 in the nation. As far as a date, I don't know yet."
Iowa's Democratic Gov. Chet Culver said, "Iowa will go first, that is the bottom line."
Left out of the checker game are the South Carolina Democrats, who appear to be sticking with the date set for them by the DNC a year ago -- Jan. 29, the same day as Florida.
South Carolina Democratic Chair Carol Fowler told the AP, "The date we've been given to have our Presidential primary is January 29, 2008, and the penalties for changing it are severe. No matter what South Carolina Republicans do, we are committed to following the rules of the party."
The same DNC rule placed New Hampshire's primary on Jan. 22, and, although it is no surprise, Gardner's clear statement yesterday that South Carolina's GOP primary will be a "similar election" under the law means New Hampshire has now all but officially disregarded the DNC rule.
The Republican National Committee forbids states from holding a caucus or primary before Feb. 5, and that will clearly be ignored as well.
"The RNC has indicated they plan to sanction any state that goes before Feb.5," Cullen told the New Hampshire Union Leader, "by withholding half or more of our delegates to the national convention. We might be punished for an action taken by our secretary of state, but if there is a sanction, we will deal with it when the time comes."
If Michigan moves up to challenge New Hampshire, as Democrats there have threatened, Gardner said, "it's not off the table" that New Hampshire's primary will be later this year.
"I have to comply with our state law, and if we have to go in the year before, we're going to go," he said.
'A historic day'
Yesterday's State House event had the look and feel of a treaty signing. Dawson called it "a historic day" and said he was proud "to stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends in New Hampshire to reaffirm the important role that both of our states play in Presidential politics." Gardner called Dawson's visit "an extraordinarily kind gesture of goodwill."
Cullen presented Dawson with a small jug of maple syrup, a photograph of the Old Man of the Mountain and a T-shirt emblazoned with, "Live Free or Die." Gardner and Dawson exchanged their states' flags, which they held up for a barrage of national and local television cameras.
Gov. John Lynch was not at the news conference, instead attending the funeral of Irish singer Tommy Makem. His spokesman, Colin Manning, said, "The governor has said he has faith in Bill Gardner. He supports whenever Bill sets the date and supports whatever Bill decides."
State Democratic Chair Raymond Buckley was not invited.
"Obviously, they can do what they see fit," Buckley said. "Any state moving forward is not good for the voters or for the process or for America. I'm not sure what Mr. Dawson is doing up here."
Buckley said he will bring his state party's national convention delegate selection plan to the DNC's Rules and By-Laws Committee on Aug. 25. He said it will include a Jan. 22 date for the primary but with an asterisk saying, "subject to change per the decision of the New Hampshire Secretary of State."
It is likely the plan will be found to be out of compliance with the DNC rule at that time.
Former state Democratic Chair Kathy Sullivan fought against the DNC's efforts to place a Nevada caucus in front of New Hampshire's primary last year -- a Democratic caucus that is now to be held on the same day as the South Carolina Republican primary.
"My preference would have been that any discussion about the calendar would have included more people than the Republican Party chair in South Carolina," she said. "Bill Gardner has been successful in the past in safeguarding the New Hampshire Primary, and I hope that continues to be true. However, we have a lot riding on his being right this time."