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New Hampshire And Nevada Go To War Over Primaries, Huntsman Vows Boycott [UPDATE: Others Join Huntsman]

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As you may know, yesterday, New Hampshire Secretary Of State Bill Gardner emerged from his Temple Of Thoughts with a lengthy missive regarding the yet-to-be-announced date of the New Hampshire primary. You can read what he had to say by clicking here, but the short version is this: "Democracy is hard and New Hampshire is super important to America's entire system of democracy, so we might move our primary to Dec. 6, and if this bothers any of you, go ahead and blame Nevada."

Joining New Hampshire in this fight is presidential contender Jon Huntsman, who has declared that he will boycott the Nevada Caucuses in solidarity with New Hampshire. Huntsman, who currently resides in the bottom tier of GOP 2012 hopefuls, needs to do well in New Hampshire -- if not win it outright -- to have a snowball's chance in hell at earning the nomination. At this point, he'd do just about anything short of getting Nathan Hale's face tattoed on his backside to curry favor with New Hampshire voters. And the threat of a Dec. 6 primary spells doom for the former Utah Governor, who needs all the time he can get to catch up with the rest of the field.

"In an effort to preserve New Hampshire’s historic first-in-the-nation primary status, the Huntsman campaign will boycott the Nevada caucus as long as the state continues to jeopardize New Hampshire’s primary date," campaign manager Matt David said in a statement, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "We call on the other campaigns to join us, especially Governor [Mitt] Romney's campaign, given their involvement in moving Nevada's date forward."

Given the way Nevada officials have reacted to all of this (and the lack of candidates willing to join this boycott), it doesn't look like Huntsman is going to have much of an impact on this conflict.

[UPDATE, 5:32pm: James Pindell reports that Huntsman's boycott has gained some new members: "Make that Huntsman, Newt, Bachmann and Santorum all boycott" the Nevada caucuses. So, most of the people who weren't going to win the Nevada caucuses will not be participating in them.]

The Nevada GOP's initial response to Gardner's declaration came in the form of a text message that Nevada GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian sent to Politico's Reid Epstein, after Epstein broke the news to her about what Gardner said. That text message read: "WHAT??!!!"

Since then, the Nevada GOP's response has refined slightly, and it essentially boils down to: "We don't have any idea what Bill Gardner is talking about." Per the Las Vegas Sun:

The question: Will Nevada’s GOP let itself be strong-armed into another caucus date to preserve New Hampshire’s claim to tradition.

Nevada GOP national committeeman and former Gov. Bob List says no way. "We tried to communicate with New Hampshire to coordinate our dates ... he was the one who insisted we proceed to pick our date ahead of them," List said, calling Gardner's letter "a little weird."

"I don't envy his problem, but it's certainly not our problem," List continued.

List goes on to point out that the state that really hamstrung New Hampshire is Iowa, which went ahead and set a date for its own caucuses while Gardner was off somewhere taking his sweet time, presumably lost in contemplation about the importance of democracy and the role the New Hampshire primary plays as the linchpin of modern existence:

But List wondered aloud why Gardner waited so long that Iowa ultimately made off with the date that would have solved his problems.

"Some time went by they could have picked the third if they had wished to do so," List said of New Hampshire. "They're constrained by their own statute, and there's nothing we can do about that."

So here's where we check in with the master of this game, Josh Putnam, who suspects Gardner is making what amounts to a Survivor-island alliance with Iowa in order to break Nevada:

The only outcome that keeps both states in 2012 and is consistent with New Hampshire state law -- that does not also include a Nevada move -- is for New Hampshire to take the January 3 slot and for Iowa to hold caucuses a week later. Either that has been a nonstarter for the Iowa Republican Party or Secretary Gardner has yielded to custom: Iowa first, New Hampshire second. If it is the former, Iowa has essentially called Gardner's bluff on going in December. That the secretary has shifted back to discussing the position of Nevada's Republican caucuses indicates that he does not want to trigger the nuclear option. Again, in the short term, that may keep New Hampshire as the first primary, but in the long term, a December contest blows up the current system or at least puts the privileged positions of the early states on trial.

That is at least part of the calculus in New Hampshire right now. But it could be that Gardner wants to keep the current line up and is lobbying Iowa and perhaps South Carolina to gang up on Nevada to maintain the status quo in the future. Let's call this an olive branch to Iowa. Gardner is basically ceding January 3 to Iowa, but knows that Democrats and Republicans in the Hawkeye state want to preserve their position. A December primary won't hurt just hurt New Hampshire; it will hurt all the early states. By giving Iowa January 3, but continuing to threaten to hold a December primary, Secretary Gardner is upping the pressure on Iowa (and South Carolina) to come to the fore and twist some arms in Nevada.

Here's a stray fact from that Las Vegas Sun piece that could provide some insight into larger game that's being played: "Iowa, most famously, usually holds its caucuses on a Tuesday. But caucuses are a time-honored tradition in Iowa; in Nevada, they’re barely two election cycles old." Custom has largely bound Iowa and New Hampshire together in virtually every discussion of the mechanics and the history of the early primary season, while Nevada is seen as the Johnny-come-lately. That would explain why Gardner isn't aggrieved by Iowa jumping on January 3rd. It also explains why Gardner spent the first nine paragraphs of yesterday's ultimatum blathering on and on about democracy and tradition.

READ MORE:

New Hampshire official blames Nevada for presidential primary problems [Las Vegas Sun]

What Bill Gardner's Statement Really Means [FrontloadingHQ]

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