Nevada Republicans have shifted their presidential caucuses to early February, a move that ends an increasingly bitter standoff among rival states and for the first time clarifies the path to the Republican presidential nomination.
There will be no voting before Christmas. That's despite warnings from New Hampshire's top election official that Nevada's initial insistence to host its contest in mid-January could force the Granite State to schedule the nation's first Republican primary election in roughly six weeks.
But facing boycott threats from campaigns, incentive offers from the Republican National Committee, and the private blessing of the Mitt Romney campaign, Nevada Republicans voted Saturday to set their caucuses for Feb. 4. It will be the West's first stop in the race for the Republican presidential nomination and the fifth contest overall, after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
"The candidates are anxious to come here and campaign and don't want to have the heat put on them by New Hampshire to stay away," former Nevada Gov. Bob List, a national Republican committeeman, said before Saturday's vote. "We have to eat a little crow perhaps in some people's minds, but I think in the end it's a win-win."
The calendar scramble had consumed Republican officials in early voting states and complicated candidates' decisions about travel, the timing of television advertisements and the distribution of limited resources. But with New Hampshire now free to settle on its preferred date of Jan. 10, the final puzzle pieces appear to have fallen into place.
The Republican presidential contenders are free to shift their campaigns into high gear with the first stop on the road to the GOP nomination set for Iowa in just 10 weeks.
"Now you'll see the campaigns ramp up very quickly," said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire Republican operative who led Sen. John McCain's political operation four years ago and was a central player in the Granite State's boycott push in recent weeks.
Nevada's shift ensures the state won't suffer penalties expected for states that violated national party rules by skipping ahead to boost its political influence. Nevada Republicans also stand to earn some perks at the party's national convention in Florida next August. As part of negotiations in recent days, the Republican National Committee promised Nevada delegates they could sit on the floor "in the best positions," and would have prime hotel space if they made the change, according to Nevada GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian.
"This will be well worth it," she said. "We will be the good guys in the end because we don't need to be New Hampshire's piInata."
The RNC would not comment on its specific role in the discussions, but Chairman Reince Priebus, who had called for a compromise, praised Nevada's decision.
"This change ensures that Nevada retains its prominent national role as the first contest in the West," Priebus said. "Nevadans should be proud of their Republican leaders. They have restored their state's key role in the nomination process and in the 2012 presidential election."
The Romney campaign also played an active, but private, role in the flap.
Campaign officials initially encouraged Nevada to schedule its caucuses before Florida, hoping that Romney's popularity in Nevada would fuel a victory there and create momentum heading into the critical Florida contest. But sensing a political backlash in New Hampshire, Romney representatives in recent days encouraged key Nevada Republicans to settle on a later date.
The Romney campaign would not discuss its actions publicly when asked Saturday, but did not dispute its role.
New Hampshire officials were clearly happy.
"It's a win for the process and it's certainly a win for New Hampshire," said Phyllis Woods, a RNC member from the Granite State. "Going forward, we really want to have Nevada as an ally. We really don't want to have enemies as we go into the next primary calendar."
Also Saturday, Nevada Democrats said they would hold their caucuses on Jan. 21.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who helped obtain the state's third-in-the nation status in 2008, decried the GOP's move.
"I'm deeply disappointed that the Nevada Republican Party has caved to the will of the Republican National Committee and New Hampshire," he said in a statement.