DES MOINES, Iowa ó Iowa Republicans on Tuesday moved up the date of their presidential nominating caucuses to Jan. 3, and said that even if another state tries to leap-frog Iowa they wonít push the early contest into December.
"We figured putting it on (Jan. 3) gets the ball rolling, and our county chairs will be very thankful and they can get busy," said Chuck Laudner, executive director of the Iowa GOP.
The announcement came Tuesday night after the state central committee, two national committee members, the party chairman and co-chairman unanimously approved the date on a conference call.
Laudner said Republicans will continue to talk with the Iowa Democratic Party, which has yet to fix a date. Democrats are believed to be considering Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 for their caucus. If the Democrats select the latter date, it would mean the first split caucus dates since the 1970s.
The Iowa Democratic Party sent out a statement shortly after the Republicansí announcement, saying the party will decide its caucus date "based ultimately on what is best for the people of Iowa and the Democratic Party."
The Iowa caucuses had been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14 for both parties, but Iowa leaders had to do some significant maneuvering to maintain the stateís early status in the face of Michigan and Florida jockeying for January primaries.
Changing the caucus date is especially difficult in a state where about 200,000 caucus-goers are expected to gather at 3,600 precincts that must be booked and prepped for voting. It also puts more pressure on the candidates and the media, said University of Iowa political science professor David Redlawsk.
"A very early January caucus clearly means that instead of taking a break during the holidays and then having two more weeks to ramp it up, candidates could have no choice, I think, but to be in Iowa Dec. 26 on through," he said. "I guess we could imagine candidate-based New Yearís Eve parties."
Laudner said the party still has thousands of volunteers to recruit, the media has to plan coverage and presidential campaigns need to move staff into Iowa, book hotel rooms and buy ad time.
"Itís not fair to the candidates who have invested so much time in Iowa to leave the date of the caucus a mystery," he said. "They need to know."
Complicating the presidential primary calendar is that New Hampshire, which is mandated by state law to have the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, has yet to set a date. New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner maintains that he wonít settle on a primary date until other states make their moves.
Gardner said Tuesday night thatís still true as he continues to watch Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina very closely.
"Itís so dangerous to say anything definitely because look at how many changes thereíve been made already. Anybody thatís tried to predict this, itís been impossible," he said.
Gardner has said he wouldnít hold the New Hampshire primary after Jan. 8, based on Michiganís Jan. 15 date. If Michigan picks a new date, New Hampshire will be paying attention, he said.
He noted Iowa Republicansí choice seemed to indicate a decision to ignore a state law requiring caucuses to be held eight days before other statesí early votes. New Hampshire law gives Gardner the power to schedule the primary at least seven days ahead of any similar election, and "we are going to follow our seven or more days," he said.
"There is no date until a time arrives that will allow a date to be set that preserves our tradition, and Iíve never changed the date once Iíve set it," he added.
When asked if Iowa could still move its date based on what other states do, Laudner said thatís not a possibility.
"If anybody moves into December, they become part of the problem, and skipping ahead of them is not an option," he said.
He added that he hopes the Iowa Democrats will go along with the Jan. 3 date.
"We want to draw attention, as parties, to Iowa ó first-in-the nation," he said. "Weíre in this boat together, first-in-the nation. So, we want to make sure itís done right and done big."
Redlawsk said there are concerns about having a split date in Iowa, and what that could do to the integrity of the caucuses.
"I truly believe two different dates would be a mistake," he said. "If the caucuses are on different dates, how do you manage Republicans who then decide to go caucus for the Democrats, and vice versa?
"And while some people suggest there wouldnít be mischief ... the reality is that politics is a blood sport I guess ó you win, you lose," he said.
Associated Press Writer Beverley Wang in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Iowa GOP: http://www.iowagop.net/
Iowa Democrats: http://www.iowademocrats.org/