Iowa officially picks Jan. 3 for caucuses

The Iowa Republican Party officially set its caucuses for Jan. 3, guaranteeing a standoff between New Hampshire and Nevada for timing of their early primary elections and pushing the primary season up against the holidays for the second consecutive presidential campaign.

"A January 3 date provides certainty to the voters, to our presidential candidates, and to the thousands of statewide volunteers who make the Caucus process a reflection of the very best of our representative democracy," said Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn in a statement Monday night.

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Because New Hampshire's laws require it to hold its first-in-the-nation primary seven days apart from any "similar" election besides Iowa, and Nevada has scheduled its primary for Jan. 14, the Granite State could move up its primary into December.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has the sole authority to set the state's primary date, has said he might move up the state's primary to before the holidays, calling both Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 "realistic options" in a statement last week. But federal laws requiring ballots to be sent to military voters 45 days before an election could make those dates procedurally impossible because of the state's Oct. 28 filing deadline.

If Gardner decides to go Jan. 11 and the candidates are forced to choose between campaigning in the two states it is likely most will pick New Hampshire because of its long history of civic engagement — and their previous investments in the state.

If Gardner makes good on his threat and moves to December, it could actually benefit Nevada's stature. Nevada politics expert Jon Ralston told The Hill earlier on Monday that a December New Hampshire primary would be the "best thing" for Nevada because the state would not face competition from other, more well-established states.