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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Top NH Republicans working with RNC chair, others to end NH-Nevada dispute

October 12. 2011 9:52PM

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 19, UPDATE. WORKING ON A RESOLUTION. Top New Hampshire Republican Party officials are involved in discussions with Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus and GOP leaders in Nevada, Iowa and other early states that would end the dispute between the New Hampshire and Nevada over their caucus and primary dates.

New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey told The Granite Status this afternoon he has been on the telephone 'three times today' with Priebus and is part of the discussions.

'I don't want to offer any predictions,' Duprey said. 'But I can confirm that there are discussions about finding a way to make sure all four early carve-out states play an important role.'

Also involved in the talks are NHGOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald and national committeewoman Phyllis Woods, said Duprey.

Any deal that involves a change in the Nevada GOP caucus date would have to be approved by the Nevada GOP State Committee, which is scheduled to meet on Saturday.

The Granite Status has also learned that Mitt Romney's campaign has had a supporting role in trying to broker a deal.

While no one would comment on behalf of the Romney campaign, people close to the developing situation confirmed that Romney allies are supporting efforts to achieve a resolution and avoid conflict between the states.

The Las Vegas Sun reported this afternoon that Priebus is working on a deal that could move the Nevada caucus back to Feb. 4 in exchange for a guarantee of early state status for Nevada in the long term.

New Hampshire's Duprey, confirmed this and our earlier report that officials are working behind the scenes on a resolution.

'We think a move of Nevada to at least a week after New Hampshire would enhance, rather than diminish, their importance,' said Duprey.

He also said, 'We appreciate the efforts of Chairman Priebus and officials in Nevada to ensure that Nevada preserves its significance but New Hampshire's traditions are followed.'

Romney has been under pressure to join a five-candidate boycott of Nevada. No such pressure has been directed at Rick Perry, although he, too, has refused to boycott.

(Earlier updates and the full Oct. 13 Granite Status follow.)

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 19, UPDATE: BEHIND THE SCENES. Several key Republicans both locally and nationally are working to resolve the dispute between New Hampshire and Nevada over the dates for their respective presidential primary and caucus.

Their goal is to get Nevada Republicans to move their Jan. 14 caucus back by at least three days so that New Hampshire's primary can be held in January, rather than December.

Those officials include not only officials of the Republican National Committee and key Republicans in New Hampshire and first-caucus state Iowa, but also players in some of the presidential campaigns.

Last night after the GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada GOP Chair Amy Tarkanian hinted that there may be wiggle room on the date of the caucus.

After saying several days ago that the caucus date of Jan. 14 was firm, she told CNN last night:

'It's not necessarily a different answer' on the date. 'It's just the more discussions you have the more you take into perspective.

'You just have to weigh pros and cons; so, as of now, we are still on the 14th.'

The key phrase there is 'as of now.'

The Nevada caucus date could change as the pressure builds, possibly before the Nevada Republican Committee meeting on Saturday.

Locally, key Republicans held a news conference today calling on all candidates to join the boycott.

And as we first reported earlier, NHGOP chairman Wayne MacDonald is now on board with Bill Gardner's assessment that Nevada is a 'similar election' under state law.

Also today, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Reps. Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass called on all candidates to "suspend campaign activities in Nevada until officials there move back their caucuses."

Their full statement:

"Every four years, other states attempt to challenge New Hampshire's First in the Nation status and this year has proven no different. While we are aware that negotiations between the states continue, we've monitored the situation closely and have grown increasingly concerned about the adverse impact the current frontloading will have on the New Hampshire primary.

"We are firmly committed to doing everything in our power to protect New Hampshire's First in the Nation status, and we fully support Bill Gardner's efforts to preserve our primary. Now that Iowa has announced a date, we have a clearer picture of the nominating calendar.

"Iowa and New Hampshire have long held the lead-off contests, and Nevada must now push back its caucuses to preserve that proven, time-honored tradition. We call on the Republican candidates to suspend campaign activities in Nevada until officials there move back their caucuses."

(Earlier updates and the full Oct. 13 Granite Status follow.)

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 19, UPDATE: WAYNE ON BOARD. Republican state chairman Wayne MacDonald is now backing Secretary of State Bill Gardner on Nevada.

After calling on Gardner last week to determine that Nevada's caucus is not a similar election and schedule the New Hampshire primary for Jan. 10, MacDonald will issue a statement later today saying that he now supports Gardner.

We understand that since last week MacDonald has had several conversations with Gardner and now understands why Gardner believes Nevada is a similar election. Gardner has said that unless Nevada Republicans move their caucus back, he may schedule the primary for December.

He is now expected to say that he supports Gardner and has faith in his ability to support the primary law mandating that the primary be held seven days ahead of any similar election;

MacDonald's statement is expected to coincide with an 11:30 a.m. news conference in Concord where other GOP leaders will call on all candidates to boycott Nevada.

(Wednesday afternoon update: As we reported earlier today MacDonald, in his statement, changed his position and backed Gardner on the primary.

MacDonald said, 'The discussion of the primary calendar continues on many levels. I have had and continue to be in daily calls with our national party leaders in an effort to work this out to everyone's satisfaction in a way that complies with New Hampshire law and tradition.

'Ultimately,' MacDonald said, 'the NH GOP supports whatever steps Secretary (Bill) Gardner takes to enforce our laws to ensure that New Hampshire's primary is first by a week.'

'I continue to remain hopeful that Nevada will move its primary 72 hours to show respect for our law, just as New Hampshire has respected the fact that Nevada, as a newcomer to this process, has a role to play. New Hampshire has been doing this for over 75 years. We also appreciate the support for our law that we have received from Iowa and South Carolina, including yesterday's support from Iowa Governor (Terry) Branstad. We continue to believe that this calendar can be worked out in a way that is best for our candidates, our party and each of the states involved.')

MacDonald also thanked the candidates who have boycotted Nevada and 'the efforts of' House speaker Bill O'Brien and state Senate President Peter Bragdon.

(Earlier updates and the full Oct. 13 Granite Status follow.)

TUESDAY, OCT. 18, UPDATE: 'A FRIEND TO THE PRIMARY." While not specifically calling on presidential candidates to boycott Nevada, Secretary of State Bill Gardner told the Granite Status tonight that any action a presidential candidate can take to 'preserve and honor' New Hampshire's primary 'tradition' is welcome and appreciated.

Such a candidate, Gardner said, 'is a friend to the primary and the tradition.'

Mitt Romney earlier today voiced support for the primary's leadoff status but again stopped short of joining four other candidates in boycotting Nevada, where Republicans are trying to squeeze a primary four days after New Hampshire by scheduling it on Jan. 14.

Gardner has said he may be forced to schedule the primary in December.

Romney said today that he will 'take my lead' from Gardner on the issue. He said he 'unequivocally' supports New Hampshire having the first primary but did not address whether it should be first by a week, as state law requires.

Instead, Romney said, 'I will take my lead from Secretary Gardner and I know he's acting in good faith and with due consideration of New Hampshire's appropriately first-in-the-nation primary law.' (See item below.)

Gardner's role does not include telling candidates what to do to help New Hampshire stay a week ahead of other state primaries or caucuses.

'There is no official state pledge out there,'he said, 'but whatever a candidate feels is appropriate in helping New Hampshire preserve and honor its tradition is appreciated.'

The tradition that Gardner refers to means more than simply having the primary first-in-the-nation. It means having it first-in-the-nation by seven days ahead of any 'similar election.'

That is clear in the law that Gardner is mandated to uphold in setting the primary date. The law says the statute's purpose is to 'protect the tradition' of the leadoff primary.

'Some people can do certain things and others are in a position to do other types of things,' Gardner said. 'Whatever those things are, if it helps preserve the tradition, they will deserve our appreciation.

'In the past, candidates have done different things that have helped the state. And this time, I don't know all the different things a candidate would think of. A lot of have decided to do what they're doing, and it's their part in helping preserve our tradition.

'That person is a friend to the primary and the tradition,' said Gardner.

In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton and several Republican presidential candidates refused to file their candidacies in Delaware, where officials had jumped the primary up to challenge New Hampshire. Several also refused to campaign in Delaware.

The boycott worked and Gardner was able to say that Delaware was not a 'similar election.'

Gardner said that in the past, any action 'came from the candidates and some of them have different ways of doing it and helping. I don't know what those ways might be, but they would know.'

And, Gardner reiterated, 'We're just asking for 72 hours. We're just asking Nevada to help.'

For a candidate to boycott an early state 'is a big decision on their part,' Gardner said, 'and they have the right to do whatever they think is right to preserve the tradition.'

Iowa Republicans on Monday night scheduled the Iowa caucus for Jan. 3.

In an interview, Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn told the Granite Status he has been in frequent contact with Gardner 'to make sure that every one knows that I personally believe that we are the two states that should be starting the process.'

He said that his party could wait no longer to set a caucus date given the major organizational requirements of the caucus.

'I pledged to Bill Gardner and New Hampshire's Republican National Committee members that I'd do anything in my power to help solve the Nevada problem.'

Strawn called on Nevada to move its caucus date, but also said he would not speculate on what Iowa would do if New Hampshire sets its primary for December.

But he also said, 'I have no expectation that our date will change.'

(Earlier updates and the full Oct. 13 Granite Status follows.)

TUESDAY, OCT. 18, UPDATE: NO BOYCOTT. Mitt Romney on Tuesday afternoon again stopped short of boycotting the Nevada caucus, as four other candidates say they are doing, but instead voiced support for the primary's first-in-the-nation status. Romney said he will instead 'take my lead' from Secretary of State Bill Gardner on the issue.

Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich have vowed to boycott campaigning in Nevada unless Republicans there move their caucus back from Jan. 14 to Jan. 17 to allow Gardner to set the primary date for Jan. 10 (see more details in item below).

On a conference call with New Hampshire supporters, Romney, the front-runner in both New Hampshire and Nevada, said, 'I support New Hampshire's primary. I support your process and your Secretary of State, Bill Gardner.'

Romney, speaking from Las Vegas, the site of a key debate tonight, said, 'I've proudly campaigned in New Hampshire over the past several months in the very best spirit of the state's time-honored tradition, which I respect and admire.'

Romney said New Hampshire voters 'take their role in this process very, very seriously. They are well-informed, passionate about politics and ask me some of the best and toughest questions I receive on the campaign trail.

'I respect the men and women of the state and also respect and unequivocally support New Hampshire's status as our country's first primary,' Romney said.

'Of course, I support a quick resolution of this dispute, a resolution that recognizes New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary status,' Romney said. 'As I've said in the past, I will take my lead from Secretary Gardner and I know he's acting in good faith and with due consideration of New Hampshire's appropriately first-in-the-nation primary law.'

Romney said Gardner does not have an easy job, 'but I respect him and have confidence he will do those things which respect that law and preserve New Hampshire's status as the first-in-the-nation.'

(Earlier updates and the full Oct. 13 Granite Status follow.)

TUESDAY, OCT. 18, UPDATE: DEFENDING MITT. With the pressure mounting on New Hampshire presidential primary front-runner Mitt Romney to boycott the Nevada caucus, his campaign today released the names of 15 more state representatives backing his candidacy for President.

The campaign said the latest endorsements bring the number of House members backing the former Massachusetts governor to 35.

One of them, 11-term state Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, a long-time member of House leadership, feels Romney is being unfairly singled out for criticism for not boycotting Nevada.

'I think we have to wait and see how this Nevada thing plays out,' said Hess, the assistant majority leader. 'Mitt Romney has been a resident of New Hampshire for a decade or two. He understands New Hampshire and I don't think he is going to do anything to diminish its significance or detract from its relevance in the process.'

Hess called the boycott 'a ploy and a publicity stunt' started by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman 'to try to differentiate himself.'

However, one of the key supporters of the boycott is New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O'Brien, who, along with state Senate President Peter Bragdon, called on candidates to boycott Nevada last week.

The officials called for a boycott of campaigning in Nevada until Republicans in that state move their caucus from Jan. 14 to Jan. 17 at the earliest, as requested by New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

This would allow Gardner to set the primary for Jan. 10 in accordance with a state law that mandates the primary be held at least seven days before any 'similar election.' Gardner has said repeatedly that the Nevada GOP caucus is a 'similar event' under the state law.

As it stands now, with Iowa's caucus now officially scheduled for Jan. 3, Gardner said he may schedule the primary for December and has said that Dec. 6 and 13 are 'realistic options.'

Today, O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, told the Granite Status that Romney appears to be 'taking the state for granted' by not boycotting Nevada, and he said the effect could eventually be 'adverse' for him.

A key Romney supporter, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, said today Romney should boycott Nevada and said he has 'passed along my sentiments to his campaign.'

Bettencourt, however, said Romney is not responsible for the Nevada scheduling its caucus so early.

Former Nevada Lt. Gov. Robert List, a member of the Nevada Republican Party's executive committee, has said that 'Romney's people were pushing for us to move into January so that he could get some momentum and have a rising tide going into Florida.'

But some Romney supporters point out that the key player in the early Nevada caucus is the state's governor, Brian Sandoval, who is a supporter of Rick Perry.

Like Romney, Perry has also refused to boycott Nevada. Ron Paul has also refused and Michele Bachmann is considering it.

Those boycotting Nevada are Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.

Hess backed Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 primary campaign.

He said Romney 'provides executive experience in the private and public sectors. He has been successful in whatever he has done and has common sense, which he will apply to national problems that require responsible solutions above and beyond over-simplification.'

He said Romney is also strong on foreign policy and can 'bring disparate elements of the party together.'

Also backing Romney today were Republican Reps. Mary Allen of Newton, Beverly Ferrante, James Webb and Phyllis Katsakiores of Derry, Norma Champagne, Ross Terio and John Sytek of Manchester, Russell Day of Goffstown, Kathleen Hoelzel of Raymond, Frank Holden of Lyndeborough, Charles McMahon of Windham, Joseph Krasucki and Michael Reed of Nashua and Chris Ahlgren of Wolfeboro.

(An earlier update and the full Oct. 13 Granite Status follows.)

THURSDAY, OCT. 13, UPDATE: NHGOP CHAIR MacDONALD WEIGHS IN. The chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party wants Secretary of State Bill Gardner to declare that Nevada's scheduled Jan. 14, 2012 GOP presidential caucus is not a 'similar election' under the state's presidential primary law and schedule the primary for Jan. 10.

'I would like him to reconsider whether Nevada is a similar election,' Wayne MacDonald told the Granite Status. 'January 10 makes an awful lot of sense for our primary. It keeps us seven days after Iowa and puts us ahead of Nevada. I think it just fits in well and we're going to be the first primary, which is critically important.'

'That's the most practical solution to this,' MacDonald said. 'I think it accomplishes what everyone wants. At this point I think it's worth another look by him.'

Gardner reiterated today that Nevada's caucus is a similar election under the state law. That means that under the law, he must schedule the primary at least seven days ahead of it. And with no room left on the 2012 calendar, Gardner said that unless Nevada moves back its caucus to Jan. 17, 'New Hampshire will have no choice but to consider December of this year.' He said Dec. 13 and Dec. 6 are 'realistic options.'

Gardner has said there historical reasons, based on primary traditions, that a statewide caucus must be considered similar to the New Hampshire Primary.

But MacDonald didn't see it that way.

'A primary election is an election, a caucus is a caucus,' MacDonald said. 'With all due respect to Bill Gardner, I really think there is a difference.

'One is run by the party and one is run by the state,' he said. 'There's a difference between a primary and a caucus.'

MacDonald echoed Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who reportedly took it upon himself to advise Gardner to re-read the New Hampshire law.

'A caucus is not the same as a primary election,' Sandoval reportedly said.

MacDonald said he has not spoken with Nevada GOP chairman Amy Tarkanian since her party set the date of its caucus for Jan. 14. But MacDonald said she had previously told him that her state party has a by-law requiring its caucus to be four days after the New Hampshire primary.

'That's a crazy by-law in some ways,' MacDonald said. 'To say you're going to be four days after someone when you don't know when it's going to be is a crazy position she put herself in.'

Nevada Republicans have reportedly said they tried to contact Gardner to ask him to tell them when the primary would be held. Eventually, they apparently could not wait any longer, had to set a date for their caucus and chose Jan. 14.

New Hampshire state law requires the first-in-the-nation primary to be held at least seven days ahead of any similar election, and Gardner told the Granite Status in detail last week, and reiterated in an interview today, why the Nevada caucus is a similar election under the law.

Iowa Republicans earlier this week set the date of its caucus for Jan. 3. Although, for historical reasons, the New Hampshire law essentially allows Iowa to go ahead of New Hampshire, Gardner would not set the New Hampshire primary for the same day as the Iowa caucus.

Unless Nevada moves ahead 72 hours until Jan. 17, Gardner appears to have no choice under the law but to hold the primary in December of this year.

In a statement that received national attention on Wednesday, Gardner wrote, 'If Nevada does not accept a date of Tuesday, January 17th, or later for its caucus, it leaves New Hampshire no choice but to consider December of this year. The dates of Tuesday, December 13th, and Tuesday, December 6th are realistic options, and we have logistics in place to make either date happen if needed.'

MacDonald said he understands that Gardner does not have to answer to a political party, as MacDonald does, 'but the reality is if he want to protect the primary, and I know he does, the primary isn't going to mean anything if there are no delegates attached to it. If it's totally a beauty contest, which it would end up being in the future if we go in December this time, I can't predict what's going to happen.

'I don't think the voters will be too happy about it, either,' said MacDonald. 'I don't think they are going to want to vote in December,' MacDonald said.

Gardner told the Granite Status he simply wants the Nevada GOP to move back its caucus by 72 hours, to Jan. 17.

'I'm more than happy to talk to Amy Tarkanian' about that, said MacDonald. 'But I suspect they are already committed to that date.

'At this point we're talking to everyone,' said MacDonald. He said state RNC member Steve Duprey has been speaking with Gardner, the Republican National Committee and other Republicans.

Gardner 'knows our position,' he said. 'We're going to work every possible avenue to protect the primary and make it worthwhile and make it effective and at the same time honor the tradition.'

He said he, Duprey and fellow state RNC member Phyllis Woods 'all agree the primary needs to be in January. We can play with dates, but we've got to go in January if it's doing to be a meaningful primary and do what people expect the New Hampshire Primary to accomplish.'

Duprey took a slightly different view.

Duprey said he would prefer that the primary be held in January rather than December, but he said he realizes that neither he, MacDonald nor any party official have any control over the scheduling of the primary.

'I support Bill Gardner,' Duprey said. 'Bill Gardner has a duty to uphold our state law.

'I'm hopeful that Nevada will move,' said Duprey. 'I'm not sure that I'd make the call that the Nevada caucus is a similar event, but the law is clear that my opinion doesn't count and that it's the Secretary of State who makes that determination.'

Gardner has said, and reiterated today, that it actually is not his unilateral decision to make. He said the legislative intent of the law is clear in the legislative history.

He said a sentence added to the law last year stating that the purpose of the statute is to 'protect the tradition' was done to address precisely this type of situation and is a phrase that mandates that Nevada's caucus be treated as a similar election.

Duprey, a former party chairman who dealt with similar situations in past cycles, clarified that he is not at odds with MacDonald. But Duprey said that while MacDonald believes the New Hampshire and Nevada events are not similar elections, 'I can't say whether it's similar or not. Bill has to uphold the law as he interprets it.'

(The full Oct. 13 Granite Status follows.)

THURSDAY, OCT. 13: DECEMBER PRIMARY POSSIBLE. New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner yesterday raised the strong possibility of a December first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

In a three-page statement, 'Why New Hampshire's Primary Tradition is Important,' Gardner, who has full authority under state law to set the date of the presidential primary, called Dec. 13 and Dec. 6 'realistic options.'

'It's really up to Nevada,' Gardner wrote.

Nevada Republicans last week set their caucus date for Saturday, Jan. 14.

Gardner wrote in his memo that, because Nevada is a 'similar election' under New Hampshire law, 'If Nevada does not adjust its caucus date to a later time, I cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary.'

Gardner continued, 'If Nevada does not accept a date of Tuesday, January 17th or later for its caucus, it leaves New Hampshire no choice but to consider December of this year. The dates of Tuesday, December 13th, and Tuesday, December 6th are realistic options, and we have logistics in place to make either date happen if needed.'

Gardner has set the filing period for the primary from next Monday, Oct. 17, to Friday, Oct. 28. His statement did not address a federal law requiring overseas military ballots to be mailed at least 45 days before an election, which appears to mean the primary could not be held prior to Dec. 13 even if the ballots were printed immediately after the close of the filing period.

But regardless of whether the primary turns out to be Dec. 13, Dec. 6, or some other extraordinarily early date, Gardner said he has been pushed into this situation by other states moving up the dates of their primaries and caucuses into January - particularly Nevada.

'My job as NH Secretary of State is to follow our law, which mandates that I set our election 7 days or more before any event that would threaten our traditional lead-off status,' he wrote.

Gardner also pointed out that he is willing to move the New Hampshire primary ahead of the Iowa caucus, which has traditionally been held prior to the New Hampshire election.

'With Florida moving its primary earlier than originally planned to January 31st, and South Carolina making a move to set its primary ten days earlier to Jan. 21, that began to limit options for setting our date in January. When officials in Nevada set their caucus for Saturday, January 14th, that left Tuesday, January 3rd as a possibility for us, but Iowa officials tentatively decided that their caucus would be on that day.

'We cannot allow the political process to squeeze us into a date that wedges us by just a few days between two major caucus states,' wrote Gardner. 'Our primary will have little meaning if states crowd into holding their events just hours after our polls have closed.'

A report last week had national Republican officials trying to pressure Gardner into holding the primary just four days ahead of Nevada caucus.

Gardner denied it then and would have none of it yesterday.

'The date of our primary is decided by state law, not by the rules or desires of political parties. Since Nevada's caucus is similar in the eyes of our statute, it means the New Hampshire primary can be set no later than Saturday, January 7th,' he wrote.

'The political parties did not give New Hampshire its presidential primary. Traditionally, it has been the first in the nation for almost a hundred years, and our state law protects our tradition. We have the largest turnout in the country, and our citizens take their roles and obligations seriously,' Gardner wrote.

'But the parties do have an important role in that they can discourage other states from trying to leapfrog onto our tradition. Right now, the problem is the date of Nevada.

'We will respond as we need to in order to honor New Hampshire's tradition, and to keep our primary relevant. Not to do so would allow us to lose an important element of American democracy forever. New Hampshire will not let that happen.'

Gardner also addresses the history of the primary, noting that over the years, 'It has allowed for candidates regardless of national standing or financial capability to begin their launch into presidential politics by winning or doing well here.

He said that several candidates 'likely would not have become president if they weren't first able to make their case door-to-door, face-to-face, eye-to-eye with New Hampshire voters who meet them at our homes, in our backyards and on our sidewalks away from the microphones and cameras that create a barrier between human beings.'

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POLITICAL BILL? YEAH, RIGHT. The clear stand taken by Gardner worked some in the Washington-based national political media into a frenzy and prompted some to jokingly mock the 35-year Secretary of State.

'Bill Gardner will set self on fire if necessary to protect New Hampshire's sacred status,' wrote a reporter. reported that Gardner's unwillingness to 'negotiate' the primary date has 'infuriated' the Republican National Committee and GOP chairmen in other states.

He reportedly chose not to participate in conference calls with GOP officials from other states who were trying to coordinate primary and caucus dates.

But as Gardner pointed out yesterday and countless times in the past, unlike party officials in states with party-run elections, he does not answer to any political parties in setting the date of the state-run New Hampshire Primary.

But perhaps the most laughable comment came from Nevada GOP Chair Amy Tarkanian, who implied in an interview with that Gardner's motives were partisan.

'He's a Democrat, number one, so he wouldn't necessarily talk with us,' Politico quoted her as saying. 'And he's not thinking of Nevada first, he's thinking of New Hampshire. It would have been nice (to get a call back from Gardner). He didn't have to, but it would have been nice.'

That statement shows just how well Tarkanian knows Bill Gardner, understands what he's about and understands the bipartisan support he has received from New Hampshire lawmakers and governors since 1976.

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A FAIR SHAKE? Although the Tuesday night presidential debate at Dartmouth College took place in New Hampshire, it was about the furthest thing possible from a New Hampshire-style campaign event.

Here in the state that prides itself on its voters ignoring polls, shunning 'front-runner,' 'top-tier, 'lower-tier' or 'underdog' labels and giving all candidates a fair hearing, moderator Charlie Rose and the two questioners turned the 'debate' into a virtual three-on-one interview with Mitt Romney.

Sure, Herman Cain, now second in state and national polling, received a fair amount of attention. Questions to Rick Perry and 'miscellaneous' candidates were thrown in to give an appearance of fairness, but it was really the Mitt Romney Show.

This is not a criticism of the local broadcasting affiliate, WBIN. Those who actually ran the show and doled out the questions had nothing to do with New Hampshire. And it showed.

While the person who leads in national polling should be in focus during a debate, this was ridiculous.

Any guise of New Hampshire-style fairness was long gone after the first 10 or 15 minutes.

Prior debates were contorted by national media moderators into two-person events focusing on Romney and Perry, while the rest of the 'supporting cast' sat in the wings waiting patiently for a handful of questions to be mercifully tossed their way.

The approach taken on Tuesday was great for Romney, who didn't break new ground but handled each question smoothly. He won the debate pretty much by acclamation.

Cain had his biggest night of the campaign yet. His '9-9-9' plan was targeted by the other candidates (when they were given a chance to talk) as they try to jockey Cain out of the Number Two spot in which he now finds himself in national and New Hampshire polling.

Interesting that Cain was more of a 'target' than Romney. No one seriously tried to lay a glove on the former Bay State governor.

And yes, Perry got a few opportunities, but far fewer than in past debates when he was Number Two in national polling.

But in this two-hour production, no one else received more than a few questions from Rose and company. Rick Santorum had one question and a few follow-ups directed specifically to him.

Like Newt Gingrich, Santorum was able to force his way into the proceedings a few times. Santorum had one of the best lines of the night when, referring to Cain's plan, he asked, 'How many people here are for a sales tax in New Hampshire?'

When there was little positive response, Santorum said, 'There you go, Herman. That's how many votes you'll get in New Hampshire.'

The moderators gave token attention to Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul.

A supporter of one of the 'nearly-ignored' candidates put it this way:

'I thought it was particularly interesting the way the debate was handled given that it was in the first-in-the-nation primary state. This is where people pride themselves on picking presidents, where each candidate can get an equal shake.'

Indeed. But then again, this was not really a 'New Hampshire' debate. It was a Washington, D.C.-style production that just happened to be held in New Hampshire.

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STILL UNDECIDED. We're not so naive to think the Dartmouth event was being directed specifically at a New Hampshire audience. But perhaps the producers should have realized that even here, in a state where the candidates have been appearing for the better part of a year, voters remain largely undecided. Even most of those who are leaning toward a candidate at this moment are not committed. So one can only imagine how uncommitted voters are in most other states. That's another reason to have given everyone on the stage a fair shake.

The WMUR Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and released last Friday, showed that only 11 percent of those surveyed said they have 'definitely decided' who they will vote for.

According to the poll, 68 percent said they are still trying to decide while 21 percent are leaning toward a candidate.

The poll released on Monday by the institutes of politics at Saint Anselm College and Harvard showed that of the 38 percent who named Romney, only 10 percent said they would 'definitely' vote for him.

In short, while it's certainly Romney's to lose, the campaign remains fluid here in New Hampshire, and, presumably, across the country.

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FOUR OUT OF FIVE. Romney continues to have a hot hand in the endorsement game as well.

Earlier this week Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek of Manchester told reporters at Robie's Country Store in Hooksett he was supporting Romney.

Now, we've learned that Romney has rookie councilor Chris Sununu in his camp as well.

Chris is the first of what the Romney camp hopes will be at least two, and maybe more, Sununus to come on board.

Councilor Sununu called Romney 'a leader who can unite our party and promote our fiscally conservative values.' Romney said Sununu as a councilor 'has consistently stood up for taxpayers by cutting spending and fighting to preserve the Granite State's low tax environment.'

Romney now has four of the five councilors in his corner. Ray Burton and Dan St. Hilaire signed on earlier this year.

Executive Council Dan Wheeler remains uncommitted.

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FRUSTRATED WAYNE. We could hear the frustration in former state Republican chairman Wayne Semprini's voice Tuesday afternoon after Rudy Giuliani announced he won't run for President.

Despite all the flirting and game-playing with New Hampshire by the former New York City mayor, most outside the Giuliani circle never truly believed he'd actually run.

But his diehard fans, such as Semprini, held out hope until the end.

'I'm just very, very disappointed,' he said.

He said Giuliani 'recognized that there was certainly a path for him to win the New Hampshire primary if he got up here and ran the type of race he needed to run. But he did not feel he was getting the same type of support throughout the country.'

Semprini said he tried to convince Giuliani that New Hampshire could have launched him to the nomination had he won here.

'I told him, 'You have no idea what a win in New Hampshire will do for you,'' Semprini said. 'I told him that all the talk is about the economy, and it should be, but the void is one of leadership and that he wrote the book on it.'

Semprini said Giuliani's decision was unrelated to the sudden move-up in the early primary and caucus state schedule that shortened the campaign by at least a month.

'It had nothing to do with that,' Semprini said. 'I thought that would have been an advantage for him.'

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ANOTHER CONSIDERATION. As Secretary of State Gardner considers various options for setting the date of the New Hampshire Primary, he received a heads up the other day from Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.

Gatsas told the Granite Status that earlier this week he told Gardner that it will be 'very difficult,' if not impossible for the City of Manchester to hold an election on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

'The reason is that under the city charter, we must be sworn into office on the first Tuesday in January,' Gatsas said.

'We would have no ward officials. The charter mandates that all city officials from ward selectman, aldermen, school board, ward moderators, all the way to the mayor must be sworn in that day.'

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THE NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. New Republican State Committee Chair Wayne MacDonald appears to have landed a top-notch executive director in Tory Mazzola of Fremont.

Mazzola, 31, a UNH graduate with family in Kensington and Gilford, moved to New Hampshire three years ago from Washington, where he had spent about eight years either on Capitol Hill or in the private sector.

For the past two years, Mazzola was regional press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, handling media in congressional races from Ohio to Virginia to Maine.

Mazzola, who will formally begin his new post in Concord in mid-November, said the Republicans picked up 19 House seats in the 2010 mid-term election in his region, including six in New York, five in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, one in New Jersey and, of course, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass in New Hampshire.

While in Washington, Mazzola was communications director for former U.S. Sen. John Ensign and U.S. Rep Bill Shuster.

Mazzola said he's looking forward to the challenge of organizing a party trying to recover from a summer of strife that saw the resignation of former chairman Jack Kimball.

Unlike past executive directors, Mazzola promises to be accessible to the media. As a communications person, he said he enjoys it.

'I'm excited about the 2012 cycle,' Mazzola said. 'We have a lot of opportunity here' to expand the party's majorities.

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DEVAL RETURNS. For the second time in three months, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will cross the border and head north - to the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Patrick, who has been mentioned in very early speculation as a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, will keynote the state Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Celebration Nov. 5 at the Castleton in Windham.

Event tickets are $75 with a 'roundtable' ticket $250. Former state Sen. Joe Foster is chairing the event.

Patrick headlined a party fundraiser in July in Concord.

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UPDATE: THE THOMSON PLEDGE. Tom Thomson of Orford, the long-time anti-taxer and current chairman of Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, reports that two more presidential candidates have signed his 'Pledge to the American People.'

Thomson said that on Sunday, Bachmann signed it at a stop in Moultonborough. Paul was scheduled to sign it yesterday during a visit to the Thomson Family Tree Farm.

They joined earlier signers Romney, Santorum, Perry and Buddy Roemer.

Huntsman, by the way, declined to sign, according to Thomson.

Thomson said that at the Grafton County Republican Columbus Day Dinner in Plymouth on Monday, he asked Huntsman to consider signing the pledge and handed him a copy with his phone numbers.

'Then during his talk to the group 45 minutes later he made it clear to all he will not sign any pledges,' Thomson said.

Gary Johnson has also refused to sign, Thomson said.

The Thomson pledge commits those who sign it to cutting spending, taxes, fees and regulations; reducing the national debt; cutting the size of government at all levels; securing the nation's borders; becoming energy independent within eight years; and to 'faithfully and forcefully uphold, follow and protect the United States Constitution.'

John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News.

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