This has created a potentially chaotic primary calendar that seems increasingly likely to start with the Iowa caucuses in early January, a month before planned, and complicates the strategies of the presidential candidates.
The fluidity has alarmed Republican National Committee leaders, who established new rules last year specifically to prevent the kind of rush to the front that plagued the 2008 calendar. At the RNC’s summer meeting here this week, party officials outlined stiff penalties for states defying the rules, but officials from some of those states said the rewards still outweigh the risks. On Thursday, the RNC tabled a proposal that would have been a largely symbolic threat.
“There’s this calendar creep of everybody wanting to move forward,” said Missouri Republican Party Chairman David Cole.
Missouri plans to hold its primary March 6, which is shaping up as this cycle’s Super Tuesday. Nearly a dozen states, and perhaps more, are expected to have their primaries or caucuses on that date — the earliest permitted under the RNC rules following the four so-called carve-out states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
In an interview, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that the calendar rules are designed to allow “a little bit more time for candidates to get their message out to states around the country before we have an avalanche of states, in essence a national primary.”
Although no state is openly challenging the monopoly Iowa and New Hampshire hold with the first caucus and first primary, several states are jockeying to hold their contests soon thereafter. Officials from Florida, Arizona and Michigan want to play a prominent role in picking the party’s nominee, believing that campaigns would air advertisements and build political organizations that could benefit Republicans there in future election cycles.
“You go early, you get a presidential debate, your interests are heard,” said Saul Anuzis, an RNC member from Michigan. The penalties, he said, are “worth it. If states do not have a chance to be relevant in the system, they have no incentive to follow the rules of the process.”
Michigan has scheduled its primary for Feb. 28, while Arizona and Florida are said to be considering Jan. 31. If those dates hold, that would push Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold their contests earlier — perhaps into late 2011.
“If we have to ‘trick-or-treat’ for the election, we’ll be the first in the South,” said Chad Connelly, South Carolina’s Republican Party chairman.
“Most Iowans don’t want a knock on the door from a candidate on Christmas Eve,” said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn, whose state’s caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 6 but could be moved far earlier.