GOP threatens to strip favored status from New Hampshire

Republicans are pressuring New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner to put his state's primary late enough to allow Iowa's caucus to take place in January, and are threatening the state with the loss of its favored status as the first-in-the-nation primary if he doesn't do so.

Gardner, who is not affiliated with a political party, has the sole authority to set New Hampshire's primary date. A spokesman in his office said he has no plans to make a decision before next week.

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The Republican primary calendar was scrambled when Florida decided to move its primary up to Jan. 31, triggering a domino effect where the four early-voting states had to move their primaries and caucuses up. South Carolina scheduled its primary for Jan. 21, and Nevada announced Wednesday night that it would hold its caucus Jan. 14.

New Hampshire law requires it to hold its primary seven days before a "similar election"; it traditionally holds its primary on a Tuesday. Gardner has so far taken the view that Nevada, a caucus state, qualifies as a "similar election," but Republicans are pushing him to reconsider that standpoint.

Gardner's view would result in New Hampshire holding its primary Jan. 3. That would force Iowa into late December because of a Hawkeye State law requiring it to hold its caucuses at least eight days before any other state.

Republican officials are trying to prevent that, and are threatening to "scrap" the system for the 2016 cycle if it happens.


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"I don’t think it takes a genius to realize that if New Hampshire goes so early that Iowa winds up during the holidays, there may be calls on whether we should scrap this whole system, and whether or not New Hampshire should even be able to go early next time," said a Republican source familiar with the proceedings. "Where his head is right now is ‘I have no choice,’ but he does. New Hampshire has gone from being the victim to everyone saying 'you're going to [mess] this up even more."

The source said that if New Hampshire moves its primary up to Jan. 3 rather than Jan. 10, the state would likely face backlash from members of the Republican National Committee. Republicans are arguing that the next "similar election" is the South Carolina primary, which would make the Jan. 10 date viable for New Hampshire.

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It's unclear whether this is an ultimatum or a hollow threat — New Hampshire has long enjoyed its favored status as the first-in-the-nation primary, and in past years heated warnings have given way to compromises and reconciliation once the calendar is officially set. But the source pointed out that in 1996 and 2000, when Gardner was also secretary of state, he took the view that caucuses and primaries were not the same and put New Hampshire's primary within seven days of a caucus.

Saul Anuzis, a member of the RNC's calendar compliance committee, said he had not talked to Gardner in weeks and had not heard of any explicit threats towards the secretary of state, but said that there is "no logical reason" for New Hampshire to move their primary up that early. "They would hurt their own cause," he said.

Anuzis described Gardner as an astute politician and predicted he and Republican officials would come to an agreement that would set a calendar similar to the one that played out in 2008, when Iowa's caucus occurred shortly after New Year's Day and New Hampshire held its the week after.

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