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Primary shift may speed campaigns
MANCHESTER — Suddenly, there are only about 100 days left before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
That's about 35 fewer days than had been anticipated a week ago. Although the compressed time frame makes a big difference in how the presidential candidates and their campaign operatives intend to approach getting your vote, campaign strategists say the change comes as no surprise.
The national Republican and Democratic parties had worked since 2008 trying to cajole states into refraining from “front-loading” the primary and caucus calendar, hoping to avoid the holiday rush of campaigning that occurred four years ago leading up to the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3 and New Hampshire Primary on Jan. 8, 2008.
The parties wanted the primary process to begin in early February, not early January, as it did in the last cycle. They envisioned New Hampshire's primary for Valentine's Day.
But Florida, already a major player in primary politics, wanted to increase its influence further. And so on Friday, officials there scheduled their primary for Jan. 31, 2012, more than a month earlier than the two parties' rules allow.
That forces the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as Nevada, to leapfrog ahead of Florida and move into January, as well — also in violation of the parties' rules.
While New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner won't schedule the nation's leadoff primary until the last possible minute, it appears the primary could be held as early as Jan. 10, perhaps Jan. 17.
Minutes after the Florida move became official, Gardner announced the filing period for candidates wishing to get their names on the first-in-the-nation primary ballot will open two weeks from tomorrow, Oct. 17, and close on Oct. 28. He said the early filing period is necessary in case he is forced to schedule the primary in December.
Regardless of whether the primary is Jan. 10 or 17 — December is less likely — the campaigns now have a month less with which to operate.
But there's no outward panic.
“Honestly, our working assumption from the first time we all sat down to discuss this campaign was that the primary was going to end up being in January,” said Tim Miller, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's spokesman. “So it doesn't change a whole lot.”
“Basically you end up with 30 fewer days to campaign and raise money,” said David Carney, a veteran New Hampshire political strategist who has long been Texas Gov. Rick Perry's senior advisor. “It is what it is.
“You just deal with less time,” Carney said. “You have to spend less time in the early states, and you have less time to campaign. Time is more valuable, and you have less opportunity to do everything you wanted to do.
“It makes it more difficult for everybody, but there is not much you can do about it,” Carney said. “This talk of states moving up has been going on for six or eight weeks, so it's not a surprise. We'll deal with it.”
“Any campaign preparing a budget and scheduling the candidate's time should have prepared for the primary being within the first two weeks of January,” said Republican strategist Michael Dennehy, who is uncommitted in the current campaign after serving as a senior advisor on John McCain's winning New Hampshire primary campaigns in 2000 and 2008.
“It would be negligent not to have a back-up plan in place.”
Dennehy said that with the primary likely to move up, he expects to see heavy “voter contact” begin almost immediately.
“Direct mail, radio, television, print, online, digital advertising will all be accelerated by four or five weeks, and that means they are likely looking at placing ads and spending that money very soon, within the next two weeks,” he said.
Tom Rath, a veteran GOP strategist supporting Mitt Romney, said, “It means an accelerated television advertising schedule and increases the demand that the candidate be totally on political activities as opposed to fund-raising.”
Rath, speaking in general terms and not for Romney, said, “The date for the candidate to move from fund-raising to political activities is at hand.”
According to Dennehy, “The other big consequence of the compressed calendar is that those candidates who are not flush with money will now likely have to choose to focus on one early state rather than all early states.”
Miller, of the Huntsman campaign, said, “We're re-focusing resources from Florida up to New Hampshire to do the voter contact work, the hand-to-hand campaigning that needs to be done on the few days Governor Huntsman is out of the state.”
Huntsman, in fact, last week moved his national campaign headquarters from Orlando, Fla., to Manchester.
Dennehy said with the primary being moved up, Huntsman must start advertising “immediately if he has hopes of winning here.”
University of New Hampshire political science Prof. Dante Scala said, “Two things are scarce and precious for the candidates: money and time.And so, every day a candidate spends in New Hampshire is a day he does not spend in Iowa or South Carolina.”
Perry is focusing on all the early states, and so must decide, “How many days can he afford to be away from Iowa?” said Scala. “They may be saying that it's a lot more essential that they do more in Iowa” and make a stand there since Romney has a big lead in polling in New Hampshire.
Perry, however, has been campaigning heavily in New Hampshire, as well.
And what about the non-candidates who are still considering becoming candidates, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie?
“For all intents and purposes, these moves by Florida and the likely resulting moves by the other early states shut the door on anyone else who was considering running right now,” Dennehy said.
“Between the importance of putting together a ground organization to raising money and spending money on voter contact programs in the early states, it's just too late.”
Rath served on an RNC special committee that drafted the current national party rule. He said he cannot understand why Florida felt it needed to move to January.
“The people I spoke with from Florida said the issue for them was place in line, not date,” Rath said. “Their maximum leverage is to be fifth, regardless of when that is.”
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