Nevada GOP moves it up

After Nevada Republicans took the bait from the Florida GOP and moved their presidential caucuses back, the Baltimore Sun ran the headline, “Are Republicans determined to screw up their primaries?” (“Primaries” here is used to describe the entire nominating process, both primary elections and caucuses.)

The headline was teasing a column by Jules Witcover, who asked, “Will they ever learn? That’s a legitimate question to ask about the political operatives in the states that again are playing musical chairs with the dates for the 2012 presidential primaries and caucuses to pick the Republican nominee.”

Witcover was faulting Florida, not Nevada. It was the GOP in that southern state that pushed its primary up to Jan. 31, in violation of party rules. Then South Carolina moved its primary up to Jan. 21 instead of the expected Jan. 24 or 28, whereupon Nevada Republicans moved their caucuses to Jan. 14. National party leaders hoped South Carolinians and Nevadans would not overreact to Florida, but they did, and now Iowa and New Hampshire may well move their events into December.

“That’s just fine with me,” said GOP candidate Michelle Bachmann. “I grew up spending all my Christmases in Iowa, so I’m happy to be here for Christmas.”

New Hampshire state law requires a Tuesday primary at least seven days before “any similar contest,” but the Nevada Republican Party’s rules say its caucuses must be held four days after New Hampshire’s primary. A New Hampshire deputy secretary of state said his office will treat Nevada as a “similar contest.” It should be noted that New Hampshire’s law already existed before Nevada’s rule, so Silver State Republicans knew they were adopting language guaranteed to provoke action by New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has wide latitude under the law to move the date of the primary forward or backward at a moment’s notice. In addition, because New Hampshire has long experience in these events and primaries are easier to gear up in a short time than caucuses, Nevada Republicans are generally seen as being at a disadvantage in this maneuvering.

Rules for both parties create a “window” from February to June during which states may hold presidential nominating events. Four states—Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina—are allowed to act before that window. Courts have ruled that national party rules take precedence over state laws, so the national party conventions can disallow delegates elected from states that jump the gun. But four years ago, the parties encouraged states to do just that when they forgave or partially forgave such state penalties.

The original national Republican plan was to push all events later in the year, with the window not opening until March and the four states not holding their events until February. Nevada had originally scheduled its caucuses for Feb. 18. But states kept pushing back.