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October 22. 2011 3:06PM

Nevada GOP folds; opens January date for NH primary

Nevada Republicans on Saturday cleared the way for New Hampshire to host the nation's first GOP presidential primary Jan. 10 and avoid voting during the Christmas shopping season.

“We're happy; we're relieved; we're grateful,” New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald said after the vote by the Nevada GOP to move its caucuses to Feb. 4.

The spotlight now shifts to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who sets the date and who has considered a December primary to comply with state law.

“Now,” Gardner said Saturday, “New Hampshire will make its decision soon based on the schedules of all the other states as required by our law.”

If Gardner puts his stamp on Jan. 10, New Hampshire Republicans would follow Iowa caucus-goers by a week and enjoy an 11-day buffer before South Carolina residents voted on Jan. 21.

New Hampshire law states the primary must be set at least seven days ahead of any “similar election,” and Gardner previously said the Nevada caucus is similar under the law, making Nevada's previous Jan. 14 date unacceptable.

Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committeeman from Concord, said he “wouldn't be a bit surprised” if Gardner set the primary date this week.

The cross-country dustup triggered by Florida moving up its primary to Jan. 31 resulted in several Republican candidates backing New Hampshire and boycotting campaigning in Nevada, including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

“We're happy that Nevada has decided to back off and give New Hampshire and Iowa their space,” said Mike Biundo, Santorum's national campaign director. Santorum will resume making campaign appearances in Nevada, Biundo said.

Not everybody attending the meeting of the Nevada GOP Central Committee had kind words for their calendar rivals.

“We will be the good guys in the end because we don't need to be New Hampshire's pinata,” said Nevada GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

“We just basically want to be the adults in the room here,” she said. “This has turned into a huge debacle.”

National Committeeman Bob List of Nevada said, “It made more sense to go back in to February, be the peacemaker ... and quit quibbling with the juvenile secretary of state of New Hampshire,” the paper reported.

Nevada Democrats, separately on Saturday, announced their caucus is slated for Jan. 21, two weeks before the GOP.

Duprey, a member of the RNC rules committee, said he expects that committee later this year will discuss whether “to increase the penalties against states that violate the calendar.”

A RNC rule specifically allows Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to hold early primaries or caucuses, but says they must be held no earlier than February 2012.

Nevada Republican National Committeewoman Heidi Smith in a phone interview Saturday said she also would seek greater penalties, including the loss of two-thirds of the number of delegates and hotel space during the party convention.

Smith blamed Florida — not New Hampshire — for the calendar logjam.

“There was pressure because New Hampshire really did not want to go into December, and I can totally understand,” she said.

In a joint statement, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Reps. Charles Bass and Frank Guinta, all R-N.H., said Nevada represented good news for New Hampshire's primary.

“Front-loading in the nominating calendar not only diminishes the importance of our primary; it's also a disservice to voters and the candidates,” they said. “We appreciate that Nevada Republicans have moved back their caucuses to allow for an orderly and deliberative nomination process.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was asked Saturday about Nevada shifting its caucus to Feb. 4.

“I take my cue from Bill Gardner, who has done a fine job over the years. I hope this is resolved in a way that is favorable to everyone,” Romney said at his state headquarters in Manchester. “I want to make sure that the New Hampshire primary remains the first in the nation.”

Reporter Garry Rayno contributed to this story.


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