At 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman filed to run in the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary. An hour and a half later, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney held a grand opening for his state presidential campaign headquarters — in Las Vegas. Thanks in part to Romney, this could be the future of presidential primaries.
Huntsman, who entered the race in July, has a small campaign bank balance and smaller poll numbers. He needs New Hampshire, where candidates with meager resources still have a shot at the nomination. Romney has been campaigning for President since he lost the 2008 nomination to John McCain (who, by the way, was given up for dead until he won the New Hampshire primary on a shoestring budget).
McCain’s 2008 comeback proved the value of New Hampshire’s primary: a presidential nominating contest in which direct interaction with voters trumps multi-million-dollar bank balances. Romney’s campaign bank balance is stronger than his skills at retail politics. Hence, his campaign’s effort to bump the Nevada caucuses ahead of the South Carolina primary, and into conflict with New Hampshire’s primary. Poorer candidates can’t compete in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida at the same time. But Romney can.
Former Nevada Gov. Robert List, a member of the Nevada Republican Party’s executive committee, which this month moved Nevada’s caucus date from Feb. 18 to Jan. 14, told The Las Vegas Review-Journal, “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.” The Romney campaign did not deny it.
What this effort suggests: Romney is willing to sacrifice an institution beneficial to the republic (the New Hampshire primary) for his own political advantage. For the Nevada move weakens all 2012 candidates not named Romney and threatens all future New Hampshire primaries. Whether New Hampshire goes in December or in January with Nevada only a few days behind it, the tradition is broken, and other states will be emboldened to move in for the kill in 2016.
Of course, Romney could put New Hampshire voters’ minds at ease about his commitment to the primary and the value of selecting candidates the old-fashioned way. He could join the Nevada boycott.
Or not. Either way, New Hampshire is watching.