Nevada moves caucuses to January

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Monday, October 03, 2011 at 8:55 am | More from The Iowa Independent

Although an exact date is not yet known, Nevada Republicans voted over the weekend to move their first-in-the-west caucuses to a Saturday in January that follows New Hampshire’s yet-to-be-named primary date.

The move is in response to Florida’s rogue change to Jan. 31, but nonetheless remains a violation of national party rules. As such, Nevada could be stripped of half its delegates to the national convention.

Nevada had previously been scheduled to hold its caucuses on Feb. 18 — a date that followed Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. The nominating calendar, however, was tossed into chaos late last week when a Florida commission chose to slate its contest for the last day in January 2012.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian had considered moving the caucuses to the first week of February to avoid the delegate penalty while still holding the first vote in the West ahead of Colorado, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But Tarkanian and the executive board meeting by phone Saturday evening deter­mined it was more important to hold the nation’s third presidential vote than to hold onto a full slate of delegates.

“We think the convention has become a bit of a formality,” former Nevada Gov. Robert List, an executive board member who voted to approve the move, told the Review-Journal. “Our nominee will be decided by then. Forfeiting a few delegates is not nearly as important as preserving the very important role Nevada has now as an early voting state.”

As has become typical for the early states, Nevada Democrats are also expected to move their caucus date to coincide with the GOP. Although that move will be a violation of the Democratic nomination calendar, it won’t likely make a difference because there is no serious opposition to incumbent Barack Obama.

Politicos involved with preliminary caucus discussions in the Hawkeye State tell The Iowa Independent that the state is likely to move to a date between Jan. 3 and 8, which would rule out a Monday night event. January 2, 2012 is the date the nation will observe the New Year’s Day holiday, and is the date set for the Rose Bowl football game. Likewise, January 9 is the BSC national championship game.

If Iowa doesn’t pick a Monday, it may need to strike a deal with New Hampshire, as it did in 2008 for a shortened window between the two contests, which have historically fallen eight days apart.

During 2010, the Iowa parties held their off-year caucuses on a Saturday. Not only was a move to Saturday pushed at a national level, but the state parties had hoped the non-weekday setting would allow for greater participation by the general public. Since the caucuses were held during the day, there was also hope that older residents wouldn’t be off-put by traveling at night to caucus locations. Opposition to the move predominantly came from religious groups who recognize Saturday as a day of religious observation and those who felt the move bucked tradition.

Because the caucuses are community contests, there were also increased difficulties in locating and reserving venue space — many of which, like school gymnasiums and community centers, are often in use on Saturday mornings.

Ultimately, however, all of this remains speculative until Nevada sets its date — and regardless of their intention on waiting out New Hampshire, Nevada will need to set a date. That could come as early as Oct. 22 when the state’s executive committee meets.

New Hampshire, which has the luxury of holding a less labor intensive primary instead of a caucus, can wait and wait for Nevada’s decision. Although both Nevada and Iowa need extra time to put together a caucus event, Iowa does have the benefit of practice. Nevada’s caucuses are still young and the state remains inexperienced with venue selection and other time-consuming tasks that surround such an event. For that reason alone, Nevada won’t wait too long before it sets a date, and New Hampshire will follow suit at a time of Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s choosing.

Once those two dates are set, the Iowa Republican State Central Committee will be able to make an announcement.

History tells us that Gardner will chose a Tuesday primary that is at least 7 days ahead of any other contest, which is required by New Hampshire state law. Given that, it is nearly a certainty that Iowa and New Hampshire will once again agree to a compressed window between their contests instead of the traditional eight-day cycle. There’s no reason why Gardner would not agree to this because it would be of no detriment to the Granite State’s status, and would only impact the Iowa “boost,” if it impacted anything at all.

That would give Iowa Republicans from Tuesday, Jan. 3, to Friday, Jan. 6. Given the dismal performance of the off-year caucus Saturday experiment, it’s unlikely the state party will want to go that route again. And, Iowa will want to have as much of a window as possible between its contests and the New Hampshire primary. Wednesday, a traditional religious-observance evening, will likely be a last resort — although it would nearly guarantee the availability of school venues.

The most likely date, even if it falls very close to a holiday, is Tuesday, Jan. 3, for the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire could then hold its primary on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and Nevada to have its caucuses two Saturdays later on Jan. 21. South Carolina would move to Saturday, Jan. 28.

Another option, depending on how angry the four early states really are, is to completely sandwich the Florida contests now scheduled for Jan. 31 and try to create a situation where there is absolutely no oxygen left for any type of bounce or national media attention surrounding the Sunshine State’s primary.

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