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October 24. 2011 10:37PM

Gardner puts off announcing primary date until next week

CONCORD _ Secretary of State William Gardner said today he decided to put off announcing the date of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary until next week.

Gardner told the New Hampshire Union Leader that after seriously considering making the announcement this afternoon, he decided that he did not want to have his announcement conflict with any presidential candidate coming into his office to file his or her candidacy for the primary.

Gardner appeared to be ready to call the media to his office this afternoon to announce the primary date, but then realized that Newt Gingrich was planning to come in to file his candidacy at about the same time.

Wanting to avoid a conflict with Gingrich or with any candidate, Gardner said he then decided not to announce the date any time during the filing period, which ends on Friday afternoon.

Gardner said that he decided not to risk having his own announcement on the date appear to draw attention to, or away from, any particular candidate either today or for the rest of the week.

“I'll wait until the filing period is over with,” Gardner said. “What if one candidate or another walks in in the middle of this?

“I don't want to interfere with any of the filings,” Gardner said. “So it will be next week.”

As UnionLeader.com has reported, Gardner is remaining quiet about the primary date, but now that Nevada Republicans have moved their caucus from Jan. 14 to Feb. 4, he is expected to schedule the primary for Jan. 10, 2012.

(Our earlier report follows.)

CONCORD — The weekend decision by Republicans in Nevada to move their presidential caucus from Jan. 14 to Feb. 4 has cleared the way for New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner to set the date of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary.

Gardner is expected to set the date for the primary soon, perhaps as early as today, and while it's never final until he makes a decision and announces it, the expected date is Tuesday, Jan. 10.

That is the date left “open” by the Nevada move. It would slot New Hampshire into the schedule a week after the Iowa caucus, which is scheduled for Jan. 3, and 11 days ahead of the South Carolina Republican Primary.

New Hampshire law requires Gardner, as the state's top election official, to schedule the primary at least seven days ahead of any “similar election.”

Gardner determined — based on his knowledge of the legislative intent of state lawmakers in passing the original law about 35 years ago, and amendments in later years — that the Nevada caucus should be viewed as a “similar election” under the law.

That meant the primary had to be scheduled at least a week ahead of Nevada's caucus on Saturday, Jan. 14.

But Iowa had scheduled its caucus for Tuesday, Jan. 3, and there is an unwritten tradition that the primary, like all other elections in New Hampshire, is held on Tuesdays.

Gardner was left with no Tuesday a week ahead of Nevada in January on which to schedule the primary.

As a result, he announced on Oct. 12 that unless Nevada moves its caucus, he would be left with no choice but to consider scheduling the primary for December. He called Dec. 6 and 13 “realistic options.”

Some media reports have contended that Gardner's mention of December was a bluff because, they reported, the December dates, would have violated a federal law requiring that military ballots be mailed overseas at least 45 days ahead of an election.

But in fact Gardner had a plan to deal with that issue and could have scheduled an early- or mid-December primary without violating federal law. It appears now to have become a moot issue.

Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus became personally involved in negotiations with Nevada Republican leaders over the past two weeks, as did Republicans from New Hampshire and Iowa.

Some candidates vowed to boycott campaigning in Iowa.

Late last week, there were clear signs that Nevada Republicans were ready to change the date. In order to remain clear of other early states, such as South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida on Jan. 31, Nevada Republicans on Saturday voted to schedule their caucus for Feb. 4.

This put their event fifth in the nation, but more importantly to Nevada, first in the West.

Nevada Democrats followed the Republican move by scheduling their caucus on Jan. 21, since there is no primary on the Democratic side in South Carolina that day.

The entire episode was prompted by Florida's decision several weeks ago to hold its primary on Jan. 31.


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