In prime primary position?

PORTSMOUTH -- It seems every week another state is announcing plans to move its 2008 presidential primary to an earlier spot in the season.

California, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and North Carolina all have proposed moving their primaries and caucuses to Feb. 5. Alabama has already moved its primary to Feb. 5 and has proposed moving it again to Feb. 2 so it does not land on the state's important Mardi Gras celebration. Wyoming has even proposed holding its Republican caucuses the same day as the New Hampshire primary.

With all these states vying for early primary status, is the New Hampshire primary at risk of losing some of its political clout?

Some political scientists have predicted New Hampshire will be diminished if a number of large states move their primaries to Feb. 5, essentially creating a "Super Tuesday" two weeks after New Hampshire. Instead of focusing money and campaign energy in the Granite State, which has only a handful of delegates, presidential candidates might decide to concentrate on more populous states.

Others say that "front-loading" the primary season will have the opposite effect. Because candidates will have such a short period of time to rebound from coming in second or third-place in the New Hampshire, getting that coveted first-in-the-nation win will be even more vital.

Dean Spiliotes, director of research at Saint Anselm College's Institute of Politics said it's just too early to tell how this nationwide push to front-load the primary contests will affect New Hampshire.

"My sense is that either of those scenarios could happen but " we're just not going to know for sure until it plays out," he said. "I've always understood why these others states want to move up," but added that when a number of states did the same in 2004, "they were basically ignored" by the candidates.

Rhode Island, one of the most recent states to announce a possible move to Feb. 5, is doing so in hopes of bringing candidates to the tiny state.

"It gets to the point where most of the candidates have dropped out by the time you get to the end of the process. The voters don't have much of a choice," said Adam Bozzi, press secretary for the Rhode Island secretary of state. "We get passed over a lot, it's an opportunity to get your voice heard a little bit."

New Jersey, which just moved its primary to late February last year, is now looking to nominate their candidates on Feb. 5 as well.

"People who live in New Jersey are major contributors in campaigns " so the candidates come, take the money and run," said David Wald, spokesman for the state's Division of Elections. "By the time New Jersey's traditional June primary rolls around, the nominee is already known and picked."

Lee Daghlain, director of public information for the New York Board of Elections, said the state Legislature has proposed moving up the date from June not only because it will make the state more of a player in the nomination process, but because it could help the two presidential candidates that call that state home, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The same goes for Illinois, said Steve Sturm of the Illinois state board of Elections. In a state with a Democratic governor and majority in the House and Senate, there has been strong support for a measure that could benefit Sen. Barack Obama.

In California, the move to Feb. 5 has been well-received by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature, but some are questioning whether it will be worth the $90 million price tag. The state's current proposal would call for a special presidential primary in February and a state primary in June. Also on the ballot in February is a referendum that would extend the state's term limits, allowing a number of leaders a chance to run again in June.

Kay Stimson, spokesperson for the National Association of Secretaries of State said the organization has some concerns about the continued push for earlier and earlier primary dates.

"One, it speeds up the presidential campaign cycle and in doing that, it really cuts out the number of (candidates) who can be part of it," she said. "It also requires candidates to have a great deal of money."

Florida, Texas, New York are all big media markets that require a lot of money to buy air time. In California, it is estimated candidates need between $1 and $2 million per week for media buys to run an effective election.

To change this "free-for-all," Stimson said the NASS has proposed a national system that would keep New Hampshire and Iowa first but would also divide primary and caucus dates amongst states in four different regions: East, West, South and Midwest. Every presidential election cycle, the regions would rotate front-runner status. For example, in 2012, the West region states would hold primaries in March, the Midwest in April, the South in May and the East in June. In 2016, the South would go in March, the Midwest would be next and so on.

First introduced in 2000, the NASS hopes the idea will now gain traction.

In New Hampshire, under state law, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has the right to set the date of the New Hampshire Primary Currently, the Democratic National Committee has asked for the Democratic New Hampshire Primary to be held on Jan. 22, 2008.




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