South Carolina Republicans on Thursday moved their 2008 presidential primary to Jan. 19, triggering a chain reaction among Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states that could push the first balloting into December 2007.
South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson made the announcement with officials from New Hampshire, whom he called allies in protecting the traditional early states' voting order.
"We are here to stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends in New Hampshire to reaffirm the important role that both of our states play in presidential politics," Dawson said.
While the South Carolina Republicans pushed up their primary, the state Democratic Party said it would stick with Jan. 29, consistent with Democratic National Committee rules.
"The date we've been given to have our presidential Primary is January 29, 2008, and the penalties for changing it are severe. No matter what South Carolina Republicans do, we are committed to following the rules of our party," said Carol Fowler, the party chair.
South Carolina had scheduled its Republican primary for Feb. 2, but at a news conference with New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, Dawson said the change to Jan. 19 was needed to protect South Carolina's first-primary-in-the-South tradition.
Given the change, Gardner will be forced by state law to move the New Hampshire primary to at least Jan. 12. Iowa then probably would move up its traditional leadoff caucuses, perhaps to as early as mid-December.
"If they move, we will move," Iowa Republican Chairman Ray Hoffmann said before Dawson's announcement.
The primary shift creates major headaches for the national parties determined to impose discipline on the states and the presidential candidates who have struggled to deal with the accelerated schedule and figure out a campaign strategy.
After the rapid-fire early voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, some 20 states are slated to vote on Feb. 5 in what amounts to a national primary day.
Gardner said he has not set the date of the New Hampshire primary and has no plans to do so anytime soon.
"I just don't know," Gardner told The Associated Press Thursday morning. "One thing at a time. This is one more piece of the puzzle."
State law requires him to schedule the primary earlier to protect its status, and it can be any day of the week.
Unlike in South Carolina, state laws in Iowa and New Hampshire require officials there to hold the first caucus and primary in the nation, respectively.
As of Tuesday, Iowa was slated to hold its contest Jan. 14. The Democratic National Committee wants New Hampshire to go on Jan. 22, although Gardner has not said he would cooperate.
Nevada's GOP caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 19; there are no indications that date would change. Democrats inserted the Nevada caucus into the schedule last year in an effort to add racial and ethnic diversity and increase union clout in the early going.
In May, Florida scheduled its presidential primary for Jan. 29, infuriating South Carolina Republicans and prompting Dawson to maneuver to change the date in concert with Gardner.
The primary calendar jockeying is the result of states such as New York and California moving their contests earlier as they seek to play a greater role in choosing the nominees. As states have moved earlier, Republican and Democratic candidates have had to change strategies.
States have until Sept. 4 to tell the Republican National Committee the date and format of their nominating contests. That's when the calendar becomes official under national party rules.
By Dec. 31, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan must formally invite states to the nominating convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul next summer and declare how many delegates each state gets.
Any state that moves its primary or caucus earlier than Feb. 5 before that "call to convention" risks being penalized half its delegates under RNC guidelines set during the last presidential election. If a state changes its nominating date after the "call to convention," the RNC will dock it 90 percent of its delegates.