The Nevada Republican Party voted Wednesday to move up its 2012 presidential caucus to Jan. 14—a decision that could force the kick off of the nominating contest into late December.
The move was prompted by the Florida GOP's decision to move its primary to Jan. 31, jumping ahead of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada—four states the Republican National Committee has allowed to schedule voting ahead of others.
In response to Florida, South Carolina moved its primary to Jan. 21, prompting Nevada to schedule its contest a week earlier. But Nevada's decision could now throw the calendar into chaos for New Hampshire and Iowa.
New Hampshire state law says its "first in the nation" primary must be held at least eight days before any other state except for Iowa—which means it might have to move its 2012 contest to the first week of January.
Meanwhile, Iowa's state law says its "first in the nation" caucus must be held at least seven days before another state votes. That means if New Hampshire schedules its primary date for anything earlier than Jan. 10, Iowa could be forced to schedule its caucus in December.
All eyes are now on New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who will make the final decision on when the Granite State will hold its 2012 vote. There's a possibility Gardner could push for an exemption to state law, which would allow him to move the state's primary to Jan. 10. That would allow Iowa to bend its rules and slot its contest on Jan. 3.
But Gardner told reporters this week he might not make a decision on the state's primary date until Oct. 17, when primary filing begins, and could wait as late as November.
Appearing on MSNBC's First Read on Thursday, Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn said his party "can't necessarily wait" until New Hampshire makes its decision to schedule its caucus date. He did not rule out moving the contest to December, but said he preferred voting to begin after the new year.
"Having a January start would serve the voters well and would serve the candidates well," Strawn said.
But Nevada's decision to bump its contest up raises questions about what role the campaigns played in chaos over the primary calendar. While some Nevada Republicans had encouraged the party to stick with its originally scheduled date in February, a top GOP official tells the Las Vegas Review Journal's Laura Myers the state set its January date after lobbying from Mitt Romney's campaign.
"We moved the date for the good of Nevada, not the Romney campaign," former Gov. Bob List, a RNC national committeeman who voted on the date, tells the Review-Journal. "But 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."
A spokeswoman for Romney did not respond to a request for comment. But the allegation, if true, could irk top Republican officials in Iowa and New Hampshire who have been working to negotiate the calendar logistics.
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