POLITICS
10/06/2011 05:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Primary Calendar Chaos: Mitt Charged With 'Gaming The System'

With the primary season calendar tilting into disarray, it was only logical that pretty soon, the GOP candidates themselves would get caught up in the chaos. That time is now, apparently. And thanks to this article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, you can expect some fingers to be pointed at the Romney campaign. Here's the salient bit:

In fact, Mitt Romney's campaign had pressed Nevada Republicans to move the caucuses into January so that he could maintain momentum coming out of New Hampshire, a state he expects to win. Romney also is counting on winning Nevada, where he finished first in 2008.

"We moved the date for the good of Nevada, not the Romney campaign," said former Gov. Robert List, the GOP national committeeman on the board. "But Romney's people were pushing for us to move into January so that he could get some momentum and have a rising tide going into Florida."

Politico's Alex Burns queried the Romney camp about the matter, and got a classic "declined to confirm or deny" response:

"Gov. Romney is running a national campaign and is prepared to compete in every state," said Romney press secretary Andrea Saul. "He believes that Iowa’s first in-the-nation caucus and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary should be preserved, and he looks forward to competing in every other nominating contest — whenever they are scheduled."

Curiouser and curiouser? Well on the one hand, all of these calendar moves take a schedule that was already fairly favorable to Romney and maximized those advantages. The candidate perceived as his main rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is still getting up to speed in Nevada -- that's a product of Perry getting in late. Romney no doubt knows only too well that the earlier Nevada goes, so goes New Hampshire. And in that state, an accelerated schedule means less time for rivals like Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman -- whose campaign frantically migrated to the Granite State from Florida just last week -- to cut into what's already seen as a commanding lead in the state polls.

I'd point out that the Romney campaign has been connected to primary meddling before. Back in June, he lobbied the state of Utah to move up their primary to an earlier date -- the better to put the squeeze on Huntsman.

On the other hand, let's remember that all this calendar leapfrogging began with Florida's decision to jump to a January 31 date for their primary. It was by no means unexpected that the traditional early primary states would react with corresponding moves of their own.

Nevertheless, the also-ran candidates aren't happy. Rick Santorum, for example, suggested to ABC News that "the leading candidates, especially Romney, are trying to “disrupt” the process to have the primaries so early that other candidates simply won’t have the time to build enough momentum to take on the front runners."

“Well this is clearly Mitt Romney and Rick Perry [who] I am sure are very interested in running the clock out,” Santorum told ABC News. “They are in a position where they have resources and name recognition. The shorter the time frame the less opportunity for other candidates to come up and catch them from behind.”

Santorum suggested that the candidates should come together and urge the states to all move their dates back to avoid the need to campaign anywhere over the holiday.

“Look I am sad that we may have a caucus the day after Christmas,” Santorum said. "It is going to absolutely affect the holiday season and for people in Iowa and for the country that should be focusing on a very important thing which is the birth of our savior instead , because of someone’s games to shorten the time frame.”

Santorum lodged similar complaints on Fox News' Happening Now, today:

I’m just saying we should look into this and find out what is the truth and if Governor Romney is doing this, I think he owes an apology to the people. We’re going to have Caucus’s now at Christmas time; I mean the day after Christmas is being suggested now as when the Iowa Caucus is going to be held. I mean this is a travesty, this is a very serious election and to have this election be muddled, of something actually more important which is celebrating the Christmas season, I just think is a travesty to this process and it’s being done by somebody who’s trying to move this thing forward for some political gain because it makes no sense for these states to be moving this quickly and to push this up into the Christmas season.

Huntsman appeared on the network later, and told Megyn Kelly:

“Well I think it’s inappropriate for Presidential candidates to be micromanaging the scheduling and the timing of these primaries. That should happen at a pace that states and individual legislatures are comfortable with not in a way that Presidential candidates are making recommendations for.”

“The fact that we continue to move up state after state I think makes for a complicated and less than transparent process for the candidates, particularly when we are so deep into the election season.”

And Burns reports that the Huntsman campaign is circulating statements to New Hampshire newspapers that accuse Romney of "trying to game the system for their own benefit and at the detriment of Granite Staters." In addition, the Huntsman camp is waving this flag: "Their move could harm the future of holding the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire."

It's by no means an empty threat: GOP officials are unhappy with the prospects of December primaries and are putting the pressure on New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner to nip it in the bud, or face the prospect of being stripped of their special first-primary-in-the-nation status. Cameron Joseph of The Hill reports that Gardner "has no plans to make a decision before next week." As FrontloadingHQ's Josh Putnam reasoned, Gardner's choices boil down to a January 7 date that keeps all primaries in 2012, or a January 3 date that brings about the Iowa-Caucus-in-December "doomsday scenario."

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Earlier on the Huffington Post: