The 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest will begin in January or earlier, but its exact kick off is still up in the air and likely won’t be known on Friday.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus .(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Officials in those four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — are now huddling to assemble their new dates, which will most likely be between early and late January 2012. But those dates could also be held in 2011, at least according to one state.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has sole authority to set his state’s primary date, said in a statement that he could not rule out holding the Granite State’s first-on-the-nation primary in 2011. He thus announced that candidates must file for the state’s primary starrting in a little over two weeks, between Oct. 17 and 28.

“Because we cannot rule out the possibility of conducting the primary before the end of this year, we are, regrettably, as we were four years ago, forced to move the presidential candidates filing period to October,” Gardner said.

An RNC official said a more complete calendar wouldn’t be available until the committee can review all the states’ plans, likely next week. The official wouldn’t say whether the committee will work to avoid starting that calendar in 2011.

“We’re going to have to continue to have conversations with states on where things stand,” the official said. “I don’t want to get ahead of (Chairman Reince Priebus) at this point.”

The other early states said no decision was forthcoming about their plans on Friday.

“Rules matter and the four traditional early states ... did everything they could to avoid this unfortunate situation,” said South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly. “South Carolina’s primary date will not be announced today.”

Iowa Republican Party spokesman Ryan Gough said Iowa would announce its caucus date after New Hampshire does so, citing state law that requires the Hawkeye State’s caucus to be held eight days before any other state’s contest.

States officially have until Saturday to inform the RNC of when they will hold their contests, but sources suggest the early states may not set their dates until next week.

As of now, Florida is set for Jan. 31, while three states intend to hold caucuses on or around Feb. 7. Arizona and Michigan will hold their primaries on Feb. 28. Because the RNC prohibits states from going before “Super Tuesday” on March 6, Florida, Arizona and Michigan will all lose half their delegates to the national convention next year, but the caucus states — Minnesota, Maine and Colorado — will not since their contests don’t bind delegates to vote for a certain candidate.

Interestingly, an RNC official has confirmed that New Hampshire and South Carolina would also lose half their delegates by moving into January or earlier. Iowa and Nevada avoid that penalty because they hold non-binding caucuses.

“We’re talking to those states and explaining it, but that’s the way it was done in 2008 and the way it will be done in 2012,” the official said.

But Friday wasn’t all bad news for the RNC’s rule-makers. Over the last 24 hours, a few other states have moved to avoid running afoul of the RNC’s rules.

On Thursday, Georgia’s secretary of state announce his state would hold its contests on March 6 rather than in February, while the Missouri Republican Party announced that it would hold caucuses in March to avoid the penalty of taking its turn on Feb. 7. The primary could still happen — unless the state legislature acts — but since it will not be tied to the allocation of delegates, the RNC would not penalize Missouri.

And on Friday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a bill that moves his state’s primary from Feb. 21 to April.

For more on the practical affects of the new primary calendar, see our explainer piece from yesterday.