Key Political States Weigh January Election Dates

Friday, September 28th 2007, 1:39 pm
By: News On 6

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Iowans could still be humming Auld Lang Syne as they gather to choose among presidential candidates, thanks to decisions by other states to move up their election dates.

Party leaders in Iowa are edging toward holding the state's leadoff caucuses as early as Jan. 3, although they'll hold off on a decision until New Hampshire selects a date for the nation's first primary.

``There are only a couple of days that work, and we don't want to go into December,'' said Iowa GOP head Chuck Laudner, who mentioned Jan. 3, 4 and 5 as dates being considered.

Iowa and New Hampshire have made clear they won't stand pat as states such as Michigan and Florida move up their election dates, but don't expect a decision soon. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has the sole power to schedule his state's primary, and he's not talking.

``I'm not any closer,'' Gardner said Thursday. ``I can't (pick a date) at the moment because I don't know.''

Iowa and New Hampshire party officials have been hearing that line for months.

``Tightly lipped, isn't he?'' noted Fergus Cullen, New Hampshire's Republican chairman.

Party officials in the two states have frequently discussed election scenarios, and most think Gardner will opt for Jan. 8 as long as Iowa doesn't move to mid-December. That would give New Hampshire a week of breathing room before Michigan, one of several states that have ignored demands by both national parties that they not schedule contests before Feb. 5.

But some in New Hampshire speculate that Gardner could move the primary into December _ perhaps Dec. 18 _ to ensure plenty of time before the contests to follow. Iowa is committed to being first, but officials clearly shudder at the thought of a December caucus. As Iowa Gov. Chet Culver put it, ``In this state, we're still going to have Christmas.''

For now, Iowa's caucus date remains Jan. 14, eight days before the date when national Democrats want New Hampshire to hold its primary. But it is all-but-certain that the preferred calendar is wishful thinking.

The longer Gardner delays his decision, the less likely that other states would leapfrog in front of New Hampshire. But the uncertainty is creating headaches in Iowa, where the parties must arrange the caucuses, find spots to hold neighborhood meetings in each of the state's 1,784 precincts, and get the word out to activists.

Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Carrie Giddens said the wait is frustrating, but the parties will make do.

``No matter when that date is chosen, we will run very serious, very correct caucuses,'' Giddens said.

In his 31 years as New Hampshire's secretary of state, Gardner has waited as late as December before selecting a primary date. But New Hampshire state Rep. Jim Splaine, who has worked with Gardner on primary issues since 1980, said he expects an announcement in November.

Analyst Jennifer Donahue at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., said she's sure Gardner is talking with Iowa officials about a date that could work for both states.

``Iowa isn't trying to make it harder for us,'' Donahue said. ``If anything, they're trying to make it easier for us. They always have.''

Although Iowa law requires the caucuses to be held ``at least eight days earlier'' than any other contest, the rule has been ignored in past elections.

In 1988, Michigan held a delegate selection process before Iowa, but it got little attention. Later, Alaska held an earlier contest as well.

Brad Anderson, a spokesman for Culver, said the governor is willing to call a quick special legislative session if needed to change that law, but few think that's necessary.

David Nagle, a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman who largely established the current calendar in 1984, argues it's a matter of being adamant about the state's place in the process, even while holding delicate talks with New Hampshire.

As Nagle put it in a memo to party leaders, ``If New Hampshire chooses to move in front of us, then we will move again. New Hampshire must understand that if they go in July, we will go in June.''