Thursday, August 09, 2007

South Carolina GOP Primary To Play Leapfrog

South Carolina's Republican Party will move its 2008 presidential primary forward to Jan. 19, sources said yesterday, a decision almost certain to spark a cascade of calendar changes that could push the start of voting to New Year's Day or even to before Christmas.

The move, set to be announced today, is likely to cause the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses to be shifted at least to early January, and other states are actively angling to stake out spots earlier in the process. The maneuvering has injected a new note of uncertainty into what is already the earliest-starting presidential campaign in history, and top strategists for the candidates said it would force them to revise their carefully worked out plans.

Katon Dawson, who heads the South Carolina GOP, made the shift to retain the distinction of holding the "first in the South" presidential primary balloting. Dawson's move was sparked by the Florida legislature's decision to upstage South Carolina by moving the state's primary to Jan. 29. South Carolina had been scheduled to vote Feb. 2. ...

The move is certain to trigger action by New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. Gardner, who is compelled by state law to set the date of his state's primary at least a week before any other. That could push New Hampshire's primary, currently scheduled for Jan. 22, to Jan. 8.

In Iowa, state law requires presidential nominating caucuses to be held at least eight days before any other voting. ...

South Carolina's Democratic primary, which is scheduled to take place Jan. 29, is not affected by the decision. But the resulting moves by New Hampshire and Iowa would apply to both parties' contests in those states.

The calendar has been shifting despite warnings from officials of the two national party committees, who have threatened to punish state parties holding their voting earlier.

The RNC can block half of a state's delegates to the national convention for defying the party's wishes. The Democratic National Committee has threatened to disqualify delegates pledged to candidates who campaign in states in which it has not authorized early voting.

Those threats have had little impact on state leaders, who predict that the parties would not follow through on those threats by the time of the conventions next summer.

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