IA caucuses tentatively scheduled for any date is code for "we're using this as leverage to create a better outcome for the early states."First of all, the Iowa Republican caucuses may end up on January 3, but that will likely have very little to do with the discussion among the decision-makers within the state party over the last couple of days. This is, as it was with Arizona, an opening offer. It is a possibility. It is a threat. But we won't know until October 16 at the earliest whether it is a reality.
As I said last night, it is in the best interest of both Iowa and New Hampshire in the long term to find some way -- any way -- to avoid pushing the start of primary season into 2011 in the short term. If the barrier that is December (or earlier) primaries is crossed at any time by any state that sends the signal -- a signal like no other in the past -- that the current system of nominating presidential candidates is in some way broken. At the very least that puts the positions Iowa, New Hampshire and now South Carolina and Nevada enjoy on trial. They don't want that. Florida and the other 45 states may want that, but Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina do not.
With that said, where does that leave this process?
The New Hampshire-Nevada game of chicken is now the Iowa-New Hampshire game of chicken. Iowa has made its offer: January 3. Bill Gardner and New Hampshire have made theirs: December 6. Iowa Republicans are saying, "We are willing to take the last Tuesday spot to make sure that the Iowa Republican caucuses happen in 2012." Bill Gardner and New Hampshire are countering with, "That's fine. We are willing to blow all of this up to protect our state law and the candidate/media attention that law nurtures."
Both Iowa and New Hampshire potentially want that January 3 slot. But this boils down to a battle of the wills or a battle of the systems of moving primaries and/or caucuses. Iowa Republicans have the freedom that any state party has. They can move their contest around without checks. New Hampshire has that, too because the state handed that power over to one person -- the secretary of state -- in 1975. What New Hampshire also has is state law that requires seven days between it and the next contest. Now, we can argue about the latitude granted Secretary Gardner in that law -- that "similar contest" portion provides some leeway, albeit limited -- but the simple truth of the matter is that Gardner has already deemed the Nevada caucuses on January 14 to be "similar". He's not likely to change that opinion.
Regardless, Gardner holds the trump card. He is seemingly willing to take New Hampshire into December if need be to protect the law. Whether that's true or not, we may never know, but he is seemingly willing to play it. And Iowa Republicans are not willing to slip into December.
I'm slightly more inclined to say advantage New Hampshire, but Iowa Republicans could ultimately prove to be a lot like the Nevada Republicans were earlier this week. Frustrated by Gardner's insistence on following the law, the Nevada Republican Party ultimately shrugged its shoulders and said, "Screw it. We'll set a date. To hell with New Hampshire. Let them do what they will." That didn't call Gardner's bluff. That responsibility now rests with the Iowa Republican Party.