Looming Arizona Decision is Key to 2012 Primary, Caucus Calendar

The first official test of the 2012 election is less than six months away. The calendar approved by the Republican National Committee puts Iowa's leadoff caucuses on Feb 6 and New Hampshire's first in the nation primary on Feb. 14. Those are followed by the Nevada caucuses on the Feb. 18 and South Carolina's first in the south primary at the end of January.

RNC rules prohibit all other states from voting before Super Tuesday, March 6, or they lose half their nominating delegates.

At this point, nine states are scheduled to vote on Super Tuesday. The RNC has also banned winner-take-all contests in March. Instead all delegates awarded in March will be allocated proportionately under rules left to the states.

But two important swing states, Arizona and Florida are rebelling against the new RNC rules and calendar, insisting on voting early for greater impact on the selection of the nominee.

Led by Gov. Jan Brewer, Arizona Republicans have been eyeing January 31 for their primary. Arizona law requires the governor to announce the primary date 150 days in advance, which means Brewer has to make a decision by Friday.

Florida Republicans are watching Arizona closely and are determined to vote fifth; right after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Florida has coveted the attention and influence of an early primary date for decades and next year will also host the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

By state law, Florida must empanel a commission to set its primary date in the next few weeks. But they are waiting to see what Arizona does first.

If Arizona goes ahead with its primary on Jan. 31, forfeiting half its delegates for violating RNC rules, Florida is expected to jump ahead too, perhaps squeezing in on Saturday, Jan. 28. South Carolina, to keep its first southern primary, would likely land on or around Tuesday Jan 24. That would in turn push Nevada's caucuses to sometime around Saturday, Jan. 21. New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary would shift to Jan. 10. And that would land the lead off caucuses in Iowa on Jan 2.

The RNC expects every state to submit its primary or caucus plan by the beginning of October but the truth is Iowa and New Hampshire will wait until every other state has locked in before setting their own dates In the past, when faced with other states leapfrogging ahead, both Iowa and New Hampshire have made it clear, if necessary, they will vote before Christmas if that's what it takes to be first. Happy holidays!