Allah speculated this would happen last week, but South Carolina became the first of the four early voting states to officially move its primary ahead of Florida’s contest, which, as of last Friday, is set for Jan. 31. South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly this morning announced the decision to move the Palmetto State’s primary to Jan. 21.

“Last Friday, a nine-person committee brought chaos to the 2012 calendar,” his statement read. “Today, South Carolina is making things right.”

South Carolina is also forcing Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada to schedule their primaries even earlier. New Hampshire will be next to decide, as Nevada party rules require the Nevada primary to take place four days after New Hampshire and Iowa state law requires the Iowa caucuses to occur at least eight days before the next contest. New Hampshire’s likely looking at Jan. 3, 10 or 17. If the state selects Jan. 17, Nevada and South Carolina will fall on the same day. But if NH chooses the earliest date — Jan. 3 — that’ll push the Iowa caucuses into December of this year. The Iowa contest likely wouldn’t take place Christmas Day, but still don’t look for the holidays to be a blessed respite from politics. The race will really be heating up about that time.

Allah assessed the impact of these early primaries on additional potential contenders Chris Christie and Sarah Palin — but how will the accelerated schedule affect the crop of candidates we’ve already got? For what it’s worth, Rick Santorum says the new structure will benefit the frontrunners:

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), whose  long-shot bid relies on support from social conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina, has complained that the earlier contests benefit the field’s front-runners, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. If voting begins earlier, candidates such as Mr. Santorum have less time to make inroads with voters and raise money, something they have little of compared with Messrs. Perry and Romney.

Wonder whether it might not also allow Michele Bachmann to revive her campaign somewhat. From the very beginning, Bachmann has focused almost exclusively on Iowa, but, lately, her campaign has even sputtered there. She says losing Iowa doesn’t mean she’d exit the race, but, realistically, she has to win the Hawkeye State if she hopes to continue. My thought: Maybe the early-early caucus date will be the motivation she needs to expand her campaign beyond a few key cities in Iowa. Her spokesman Eric Woolson said events will increase in the coming weeks — and, on an upcoming two-day swing, she’ll hit western Iowa, which she hasn’t much covered. If, with those renewed efforts, she does manage to build momentum again, she won’t have to hold on to it for very long before the actual caucuses.

It’s also possible Herman Cain’s current wave of popularity could last just long enough to carry him to a sound finish in an oh-so-early Iowa contest.

In other words, the earlier primaries will just ensure the GOP chooses its candidate from among the already-caught-on contenders sooner, giving the party more time to rally around the nominee. Hate to say it (I actually really like him, as “stressed” as he is!), but even if Florida hadn’t bucked the system, Santorum wasn’t gonna be the It Guy.