Iowa GOP: January 3rd caucus date is "set in stone"

I’m not sure which emotion to feel more intensely — anger over having to cover political events over a New Years weekend, or relief that I’m not covering them over Thanksgiving:

Iowa GOP leaders, instead of waiting until they know exactly what date New Hampshire will pick, have voted to rein in the calendar chaos by locking in a date for the Republican caucuses here.

The Republican Party of Iowa central committee voted unanimously Monday night in favor of Jan. 3, with a 7 p.m. start time, Chairman Matt Strawn said. …

Steve Scheffler, a state central committee member and RNC member, said he’s elated.

“The date is in stone, period,” he said. “There is no chance we will reconvene to change the date.”

That shows a little more selflessness than some other states have demonstrated in this cycle, although that’s not saying too much.  Voters in most other states still chafe at the notion that the state that ranks 30th in population plays such an outsized role in presidential politics every single presidential cycle.  Had Iowa and New Hampshire not mule-headedly demanded to be first in the nation in perpetuity, both major political parties might have been able to work out a better, rotating system that allowed all states to play a significant role in the process, at least over time if not in any one particular cycle.

Speaking of mule-headedness, the ball is now in the courts of New Hampshire and Nevada, as CBS notes:

The primary calendar was thrown off-kilter when the Florida Republican Party decided to move its primary to January 31, even though Republican National Committee rules dictate that only four states are allowed to hold nominating contests before March 6 — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. That set off a scramble among the early-nominating states to move up their primaries.

Nevada set its caucuses for Jan. 14, leaving New Hampshire to consider holding its primary as early as December, since a New Hampshire law that requires the state to hold its first-in-the-nation primary at least seven days before the next nominating contest. Iowa laws, meanwhile, say the state must hold its first-in-the-nation caucuses seven days before any other state’s nominating contest, including New Hampshire’s (though in 2008, Iowa held its caucuses just five days before the New Hampshire primary). …

New Hampshire is asking the Republican Party of Nevada to move its caucus back to at earliest January 17. In an attempt to exert pressure on Nevada and to keep all of the primaries in 2012, many of the Republican candidates have pledged to boycott the Nevada caucus if the date does not change. The effort started with former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Other campaigns have followed suit, including Representative Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum.

So far, Mitt Romney hasn’t joined that boycott — perhaps because he’s the favorite in the race.  He and Tim Pawlenty campaigned in the Silver State yesterday, while their rivals continued to pressure Nevada to retreat three days to the 17th so that New Hampshire could select January 10th and the entire issue could be settled.  If Romney isn’t willing to join his opponents in pressing for a responsible solution, it may cost him with his New Hampshire base, as the influential Union-Leader takes Romney to task in its editorial today:

What this effort suggests: Romney is willing to sacrifice an institution beneficial to the republic (the New Hampshire primary) for his own political advantage. For the Nevada move weakens all 2012 candidates not named Romney and threatens all future New Hampshire primaries. Whether New Hampshire goes in December or in January with Nevada only a few days behind it, the tradition is broken, and other states will be emboldened to move in for the kill in 2016.

Of course, Romney could put New Hampshire voters’ minds at ease about his commitment to the primary and the value of selecting candidates the old-fashioned way. He could join the Nevada boycott.

Or not. Either way, New Hampshire is watching.

Since tonight’s debate takes place in Las Vegas, expect the moderators at CNN to raise the question of the Nevada boycott and the primary scheduling.  That might put pressure on the other candidates to soften their calls for a boycott, but it’s more likely to end up giving them all a way to attack Romney as irresponsible and lacking the kind of leadership to unify Republicans nationally.  And it won’t just be New Hampshire that’s watching, either, but Iowa as well.