Presidential votes in 2011? Probably not

at 06:30 AM ET, 10/07/2011

Ever since Florida moved its primary to Jan. 31, the talk has been that the 2011 GOP nominating contest might begin in December.

And in recent days, as South Carolina has moved its primary to Jan. 21 and Nevada set its caucuses for Jan. 14, it seemed the likelihood only increased that Iowa and/or New Hampshire would hold their contests before the New Year.

But this analysis misses a lot of reasons why that won’t — or rather, probably won’t — happen.

First, there are all kinds of incentives for the states involved to avoid December contests.

Putting the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary in December would create a mess for the candidates and the party alike. Candidates all of a sudden have to compete with Christmas and other holidays for people’s attention, they have to campaign on or around the holidays and, perhaps most importantly, they have to pay much more to advertise, thanks to the hike in ad rates that begins after Thanksgiving.

“It’s a perfect storm from a rate perspective,” said a GOP media buyer. “New Hampshire is already a difficult place to advertise, and it becomes even harder during the holidays.”

Put plainly: These states want to be the focus of the nation’s attention, and putting their contests anytime in December directly competes with a smattering of holidays, from Thanksgiving and Hanukkah to Christmas and New Year’s.

Second, the main reason people think things may begin in December is because New Hampshire state law requires its primary to be held seven days before any similar contest, and Iowa law requires its caucuses to be held eight days before the next contest. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has cited this law and said New Hampshire must be at least a week before Nevada.

Well, both of these laws have been ignored before, so who’s to say they won’t again?

In 2008, Iowa held its caucuses just five days before New Hampshire. And in 1996, 2000 and 2004, New Hampshire held its primary less than seven days before another state. Gardner, the longtime secretary of state who has sole control over setting the state’s primary date, was also in charge during those three elections.

(In 1996, even after the state strengthened its first-in-the-nation law in response to a power move by Delaware, Gardner ultimately concluded that Delaware’s primary didn’t constitute a similar election.)

In other words, laws are laws. But there’s often a way to skirt them, and they have often been skirted.

Indeed, during an appearance on MSNBC on Thursday, Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn hinted strongly that he would be willing to accept a five-day window, rather than eight, before New Hampshire and wants to avoid December.

“The Iowa (caucus) did not lack for attention in 2008,” Strawn said. “It would serve the voters and candidates better if this is after the holidays. Voters don’t want knocks at their door during the Christmas and New Year’s season.”

Third, beginning the contest in 2011 could have all kinds of unintended consequences. The agreement reached by the four early states and members of the Republican National Committee is already pretty fragile, and the line between December and January is an unspoken boundary, with good taste very much residing on the latter’s side.

If Iowa and/or New Hampshire go into December, they risk the backlash of all of the RNC, and once committee members start tinkering with the rules again, those states could find their cherished early status in jeopardy — at least if you believe the veiled and not-so-veiled threats coming from commmittee members.

In the end, both Iowa and New Hampshire have plenty of reasons to stick with January, even if it means caving a little on their rules.

That doesn’t mean they will. But it does mean that they won’t cross that line without some trepidation.

Reid goes nuclear: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may have changed the Senate for good late Thursday night, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to overcome Republican filibusters.

The nuclear option has been the forbidden fruit for some time in the Senate, with both Republicans and Democrats threatening to use it to overcome the 60-vote threshold to bring something to a vote.

Well, Reid bit into the apple last night. The question now is whether that means 60 votes won’t be needed going forward.

Romney goes hawkish: In a foreign policy speech at the Citadel Thursday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will declare that “this century must be an American century.”

To get there, he pledges to roll back defense cuts, “employ all the tools of statecraft to shape the outcome of threatening situations,” promote democracy and free markets and “exercise leadership in multilateral organizations and alliances.”

Romney appears to be seizing the anti-isolationist mantle — a point-of-view that until this point in the presidential race was voiced mostly by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Fixbits:

Romney grabs a top supporter in Florida: Justin Sayfie, a former backer of Tim Pawlenty.

Campaign ad wiz Ken Goldstein says spending on ads in the 2012 election could rise to $3.2 billion, roughly 50 percent higher than in 2008.

Behind the redistricting impasse in Utah.

Must-reads:

Iowa still wide open for GOP field” — Scott Conroy, Real Clear Politics

How much would an endorsement from Palin matter?” — Peter Hamby, CNN

Herman Cain’s surprising rise to GOP front-runner” — Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

Romney rounds up backing among key GOP donors” — Nicholas Confessore, New York Times

Cain’s dim view of Occupy Wall Street protesters

Fact Checker: Obama’s news conference Pinocchios

For Anita Hill, the Clarence Thomas hearings haven’t really ended

Perry disputes hunting camp story

Brown takes heat on comment about Warren

 
Read what others are saying