New Hampshire fights challenge to status as the primary primary

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The Independent US

"Dysfunctional" is the adjective commonly used to describe Washington's gridlocked federal politics. Now dysfunction has spread to individual states.

Once again, they are squabbling over the timetable for the upcoming primaries to choose the Republican opponent to face Barack Obama in November next year. As a result, New Hampshire's 2012 vote, which traditionally kicks off the primary season, may be held in early December... 2011.

Such at least is the threat levelled by William Gardner, New Hampshire's chief administrative official. If other early voting states do not rearrange their calendars to Mr Gardner's satisfaction, then New Hampshire would push its date forward. "Tuesday, 13 December, and Tuesday, 6 December are realistic options," he said in a statement.

The proximate reason why the first 2012 vote that matters may now be just seven weeks off is Nevada's decision to move its caucuses to 14 January. That, Mr Gardner complains, would leave New Hampshire wedged between Iowa (whose caucuses are likely to open the voting season on 3 January) and Nevada, with its importance diminished. But the real culprit is Florida, which last month defied an agreement that the Republican National Committee thought it had in place – for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold their respective caucuses and primaries in February, with other states following in the months thereafter.

Florida upset the apple cart by moving its primary to 31 January, arguing that it was a large swing state crucial in general elections, whose importance should be reflected by an early position in the schedule. In response, Nevada, South Carolina and Iowa moved their votes forward. Now New Hampshire has joined them.

The real reason for Florida's behaviour is jealousy. Why should a small, unrepresentative place like New Hampshire get all the attention?

The grumbling is understandable. The presidential primary is a four-yearly publicity and financial gold mine for New Hampshire. While the Iowa caucuses mark the start of the GOP candidate selection process, it is the New Hampshire primary that generates massive media coverage – as much as all the subsequent primaries combined.

Underpinning everything is the New Hampshire mystique – its brand of retail politics where voters meet candidates and discuss issues in depth provides a better barometer of the national mood than campaigns where money and advertising are all-important. No less important to throw up winners.

That last rule, that no one captures the White House without winning the New Hampshire primary, no longer holds. Bill Clinton was defeated in 1992, eight years later George W Bush was trounced, and in 2008 Barack Obama was beaten by Hillary Clinton. But all three losers ended up as President.

Timetable: Battle of the Ballot

Tentative schedule for the 2011-12 primary elections:

New Hampshire: December?

Iowa: 3 Jan

Nevada: 14 Jan

South Carolina: 21 Jan

Florida: 31 Jan

Super Tuesday: 6 Mar

2008 schedule

Iowa: 3 Jan

New Hampshire: 8 Jan

Nevada: 19 Jan

South Carolina: 19 Jan

Florida: 29 Jan

Super Tuesday: 5 Feb

2004 schedule

Iowa: 19 Jan

New Hampshire: 27 Jan

Nevada: 14 Feb

South Carolina: 3 Feb

Super Tuesday: 3 Feb

Florida: 9 Mar