According to Republicans monitoring this subject, there are two different timeline scenarios. The first is the RNC-sanctioned February start date: Iowa goes Feb. 6, New Hampshire Feb. 14, Nevada, Feb. 18, South Carolina Feb. 28, and Super Tuesday is March 6. The second is the more chaotic January (or even December) start date: States like Arizona and Florida -- risking losing half their delegates and other penalties -- set their primaries early, pushing Iowa, New Hampshire, and other states into January or earlier. Which scenario is more likely? Although this remains a fluid situation, one plugged-in Republican eyeing the calendar process for one of the campaigns says there’s a “99%” chance it begins in early January instead of February. So start making your New Year’s Eve plans in Des Moines now. Or at least buy refundable air tickets.One can understand the desire of various states to be first and have influence earlier in the primary process, but one might also wonder about the wisdom of such a slew of early primaries---for states themselves and for the Republican party as a whole.
The primary calendar of 2008 saw a rush of states early in the year. For Democrats, the states that perhaps won the most in terms of electoral attention were those that held primaries after the rush. With its primary on April 22, Pennsylvania witnessed a much more intense level of campaigning than did California (which held its primary on Tsunami Tuesday on February 5).
And the odds are greater this cycle than in many cycles in the past that Republicans could witness a drawn-out primary process. RNC primary rules changes have placed a new priority on proportional representation for states early in the primary cycle, making the Republican primary process a little more like that of Democrats. These changes could make it less likely for competitive candidates to be knocked out of the race by losing a single state's primary. Especially if Palin gets in, we could easily see a number of closely split primaries leading to a more extended primary battle.
The extension of the primary calendar could very easily be a good thing for the eventual Republican nominee. The minute a presumptive nominee is crowned, the White House and its allies will have a single target on which to focus their vitriol. But, as long as the primary process is in play, the optics of partisan attack get more complicated, if not harder.
In a drawn-out primary process, states that come later still have an important role to play and can get more attention than those states that simply run with the pack. Moreover, an early selection of a nominee might not be a bad thing, but it is not assuredly a good thing, either. Many in Washington are probably hoping that states do not rush to have primaries in late 2011 or January 2012; many states might find it in their best interests to avoid this rush as well.