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Presidential Primary dates on the move

State House Bureau Chief

October 03. 2011 11:10PM

CONCORD - Secretary of State William Gardner gave no hint Monday of how he will respond to a South Carolina move to speed up its primary election.

South Carolina Republicans on Monday moved their election date to Jan. 21. They moved in reaction to a vote last week in Florida to jump its primary to Jan. 31.

Gardner is obligated by state law to make sure New Hampshire retains its tradition of holding the first-in-the-nation primary.

South Carolina's decision could push the vote here to Jan. 10, 2012, based on the order of votes in other early states.

Gardner said he sees no need to respond to South Carolina yet, explaining, 'This is really early.'

Four years ago, Gardner announced on Nov. 21 that the primary would be held Jan. 8. He has acted as late as December, all in the interest of setting the date when he knows for sure that it will keep New Hampshire first.

Rules set by the national Republican and Democratic parties say Iowa gets the nation's leadoff caucus ahead of New Hampshire's primary. Nevada's caucus follows New Hampshire, then comes South Carolina.

New Hampshire law says the presidential primary here must be held at least seven days ahead of any similar election. National parties had penciled in Feb. 14 for the New Hampshire Primary. After Florida changed its date, South Carolina Republicans acted to protect their status as the South's leadoff primary state.

In order to fit between caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, New Hampshire could set Tuesday, Jan. 10, for its primary, comply with state law and avoid throwing other early states into chaos.

'We have a lot of flexibility,' Gardner said. 'The primary can be in the year of the presidential election or the year before it. I can't say it will be Jan. 10 or any other date. We're very flexible. We've been through this before.'

After Florida moved Friday, Gardner set Oct. 17 to Oct. 28 as the filing period for presidential candidates who want their names on the primary ballot.

Gov. John Lynch said Monday the South Carolina move did not surprise him.

'This kind of jockeying happens every four years,' he said. 'Ultimately, New Hampshire will go first, and I trust Bill Gardner will take the appropriate steps so that New Hampshire retains its first-in-the-nation primary.'

Moves by state committees are being made despite the Republican National Committee's warning that it will strictly enforce a rule that strips any state of half its convention delegates if it jumps ahead of the RNC primary calendar.

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