Updated at 3:24 p.m.

Iowa’s Republican Party has tentatively set its 2012 presidential caucuses for Jan. 3, avoiding holding the contest in December, according to two state central committee members.

A.J. Spiker said members of the central committee agreed to the date on an informal conference call Thursday night.

“It wasn’t official, but we came to a good conseus that Jan. 3 would clearly be the date,” Spiker told The Fix. “The state central is clearly behind that date.”

Added committee member Drew Ivers: “It was a consensus. It was not a formal vote.”

The agreement won’t officially be voted on until Oct. 16, and the state party hasn’t confirmed the date yet. An Iowa GOP spokesman did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

The news was first reported by the Des Moines Register.

By selecting the date now, Iowa is effectively staking claim to it before New Hampshire could set its primary for that date.

New Hampshire holds its primary on a Tuesday, and state law says it must be set at least seven days before a similar contest. After Nevada set its caucuses for Jan. 14 on Thursday, Jan. 3 became the latest date that would meet both of those criteria for New Hampshire.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said Thursday that he thinks New Hampshire could hold its primary just four days before Nevada, on Jan. 10, but New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has said his state must go at least a week before Nevada and has threatened to hold the contest in December.

A decision from Gardner, who has sole authority to set his state’s primary date, isn’t due for a couple weeks yet.

If Iowa does stick with Jan. 3, the question will be whether New Hampshire goes in December, thereby making it not just the first primary, but the first contest.

“If New Hampshire jumps into Decmeber, that’s up to them and their Secretary of State,” Spiker said.

As we noted in Morning Fix today, there are plenty of reasons to believe neither Iowa nor New Hampshire will go in December.