The shift in the GOP primary schedule has certainly quickened the pace of the campaigns. Florida will now hold its contest on Jan. 31 with South Carolina going on Jan. 21. In response to my inquiry as to how this affected Mitt Romney’s plans, his campaign suggested this was all to be expected.
In other words, the Romney camp, which has had the longest lead-time and the most experience in early-primary states, is no doubt perfectly pleased with the stress the new schedule puts on competitors. Jon Huntsman has already pulled up stakes in Florida to concentrate on New Hampshire. The less time for his rivals to dent his lead in New Hampshire, the better for Romney.
The compressed schedule also puts financial strains on less well-funded campaigns. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is struggling just to stay afloat in Iowa, according to the Los Angeles Times: “Reports of lackluster fundraising were bolstered by her campaign’s plea to supporters last week for ‘emergency contributions.’ At an event in Cedar Rapids, aides handed out leftover brochures asking for support at the straw poll, more than a month ago. A strong presence in early Republican debates, she was starved of airtime in recent face-offs, to the point that during the last one she interrupted so she could answer another candidate’s question.” If she can’t pull it together in Iowa, how will she manage a presence in other states?
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was in New Hampshire over the weekend. His crowd size was modest (140 at one event). Unless he can bolster his poll numbers, however, it may simply not be worth his time to devote too many more visits there, at least not when Iowa (possibly Jan. 2) and South Carolina, generally regarded as must-win states for him, come so early in the year.
One thing, however, is clear. Early-primary states do matter, as Rudy Giuliani found out in 2008 when he tried to “wait” for Florida. If a single candidate captures most or all of the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida contests, the race could be largely decided in four months. That’s right. No wonder money, organization and experience count for a lot in these races.