ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed legislation Monday moving New York's presidential primary to Feb. 5, further setting the stage for a mid-winter political showdown that could leave Americans with the longest general election campaign ever.
Parochially, the change could also benefit the Democratic and Republican front-runners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, both New Yorkers.
Nearly a dozen other states, including California and New Jersey, have already moved their primaries or caucuses to Feb. 5. A dozen more are considering such moves, setting the stage for what is quickly becoming known as "Super-Duper Tuesday" just 22 days after the leadoff Iowa caucuses.
"Moving the primary date to February, we will help secure New York's large and diverse population an influential voice in selecting the 2008 presidential nominees," said Spitzer.
In New York, the shift could mean a big early haul of national convention delegates for Clinton, a New York senator, and for Giuliani, a former New York City mayor. The state had been scheduled to hold its primary on March 4 until Giuliani allies began pressing for the earlier date. The Clinton camp quickly gave its blessing and the measure won overwhelming approval from New York's Republican-led state Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly last month.
"It's certainly good for both candidates from New York," said former state GOP Chairman William Powers, a co-chairman of Giuliani's New York campaign.
Bill Gardner, the New Hampshire secretary of state who sets the date for the traditional first-in-the-nation primary, said the move by New York and the other states likely means the entire nominating process will be over on Feb. 5. He called that "a rush to judgment" that might not be good for politics.
"You're going to have all those months for people to take shots at them and for their own people to start having second thoughts" about the nominees, added Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"It's going to be a big national event," said Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic consultant. He said the Feb. 5 showdown means candidates may have to devote even more attention to the leadoff Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the early New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
"There are so many states moving to Feb. 5 that it's going to make the first four states even more important," said Carrick. "I don't think anybody's going to be able to afford to run serious campaigns in California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, etcetera, etcetera, ecetera. It's just too expensive."
Chris Lehane, a veteran Democratic presidential campaign operative, said "all of this makes it harder and harder for a non-top tier candidate. ... A second tier candidate has to win or really surprise in Iowa and New Hampshire to survive in terms of money and political oxygen."
That makes Iowa and New Hampshire "even more critical," said Lehane. "If someone sweeps those two states, they will have too much mojo to be stopped."
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a second-tier Republican who is still considering a possible late entry into the race, said he had mixed feelings.
"It's great having New York be relevant, but what I do have concerns about is when you have a dozen states or more doing it at the same time," said Pataki. "The idea of a primary season where you have to go from state to state or region to region and respond to what has happened in earlier states is of value."
"Having a truncated primary process overall is a negative thing," said Pataki.
Pollster Carroll predicted "chaos and stupidity and poll-driven politics," and said the presence of Clinton and Giuliani will mean "nobody's going to bother campaigning in New York. Rudy Giuliani and Clinton will sew it up, so why waste your time?"
Despite such predictions, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona "expects to compete in the state," said spokesman Danny Diaz in the wake of Spitzer's action.
Strategically, a front-loaded schedule could regionalize the contest as well, forcing candidates to concentrate on different states where they think they might be able to pick up at least a share of delegates.
The mass move to Feb. 5 upends plans by the Democratic National Committee, which had carefully designed an early primary schedule that squeezed Nevada caucuses between Iowa's Jan. 14 caucus and New Hampshire's Jan. 22 primary and set South Carolina's primary for Jan. 29.
Party officials envisioned the diversity of primary states could result in four regional candidates who then would fight their way through the remainder of the contests.
Some strategists suggest a super primary could help a well-financed candidate who stumbles in the four early primaries -- a possibility some call a "firewall scenario."
Gardner says he just hopes the pressure for earlier and earlier contests doesn't push him to scheduling the New Hampshire primary even earlier.
"I certainly wouldn't want the primary to be in the year before the election," he said.
In addition to California, New Jersey and New York, Feb. 5 contests are already scheduled in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah, according the National Association of Secretaries of State.