New Hampshire primary at Christmastime? Election 2012 could get weird.

Election 2012 voters in New Hampshire might have to shop for holiday gifts and presidential candidates at the same time. The state is considering a Dec. 6 primary to maintain its first-in-the-nation status.

Andrew Harrer/AP
Republican presidential candidate businessman Herman Cain, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, right, listen as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday.

New Hampshire voters might have to shop for holiday gifts and presidential candidates at the same time this year. Traditionally, they’ve been able to leisurely size up presidential-primary contenders at winter fairs and wait until the new year to make their final choice.

But this year, “Dec.” could stand for “Decision” in New Hampshire – with a primary vote possibly to be set as early as Dec. 6 in order for the state to maintain its first-in-the-nation status.

For anyone upset by the prospect of voting starting so early, New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner issued a statement Wednesday equivalent to a teenager’s gesture for “Talk to the hand.” But in this case it’s “Talk to Nevada.”

“It’s really up to Nevada,” Mr. Gardner says. He goes on to urge the state to move its caucus date from Jan. 14 to Jan. 17, which would allow New Hampshire to hold its primary on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

New Hampshire has held the nation’s first primary since 1920, and since 1975, the tradition has been codified in state law, which currently mandates that its primary fall at least seven days before “similar elections that would challenge our traditional status,” Gardner writes.

Jan. 3 would have been a possibility, but Iowa has tentatively set its caucus for that day. (The Iowa caucus has not been deemed a “similar election” as the Nevada caucus has, so New Hampshire could hold its primary after Jan. 3).

Ruling out dates too close to the holidays, Gardner wrote in a statement (pdf) that Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 “are realistic options, and we have logistics in place to make either date happen if needed.”

There is no official response from Nevada yet. Perhaps the reply will be, “Talk to Florida.”

Florida started the acceleration of the calendar when it set its primary date of Jan. 31, defying national Republican party rules and prompting South Carolina and Nevada to shift to earlier January dates to preserve their place with Iowa and New Hampshire as the first four states.

But it’s Nevada that’s taking the heat at the moment. Jon Huntsman, for one, said Thursday he won’t campaign in Nevada unless the date for its caucus is changed to appease New Hampshire, and he’s urging other candidates to do the same.

And the pressure may work, says Michael Dennehy, an unaffiliated Republican strategist in New Hampshire.

If Nevada doesn’t budge, it will suffer, he predicts: “Let’s face it, the candidates care more about New Hampshire; the media care more about New Hampshire ... Delaware made that very large mistake [of moving up their vote] in 1996 and 2000, and the candidates boycotted Delaware.”

NH law doesn’t require that the primary be on a Tuesday, so the vote could potentially be held on Jan. 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7, all of which are seven days before Nevada’s current Jan. 14 date. Gardner's office has not said specifically whether they would consider these dates.

In response to Gardner’s tough stance, tweeters are having a field day, using the hashtag #BillGardnerFacts, started by NECN television reporter Lauren Collins:

@HotlineJess Costume idea! ... People in New Hampshire dress up as Bill Gardner on Halloween to scare people.

@Graniteprof Bill Gardner was challenged to a staring contest in first grade. He didn't blink until he was 12.

@dbernstein When he goes to the beach, Bill Gardner gets the moon to change the time of high tide.

@LaurenNECN Bill Gardner knows the date of the primary. It's tucked in the holy grail. Which is stashed under his desk.

But Gardner, who doesn’t tweet, offered a more serious explanation for the importance of maintaining New Hampshire’s primary primary position [see what we did there?] – not just for New Hampshire, but for the health of the nation:

“It has allowed for candidates regardless of national standing or financial capability to begin their launch into presidential politics by winning or doing well here ... [I]f the role of small states was eliminated, only the very rich or famous candidates would be able to put on the major campaigns needed for victory or to exceed expectations. In a state like New Hampshire, candidates can run without a large staff or heavy advertising and consulting budgets if they have a message, meet directly with voters, and explain why they should be president.”

But some commentators speculate a December date could backfire for New Hampshire.

Nate Silver of the New York Times writes:

“[C]hances are that a December date would diminish the importance of New Hampshire from an electoral perspective, both because it is so disconnected from the rest of the calendar and because [Mitt] Romney’s rivals might have more of an excuse for a poor performance there. Candidates like [Rick] Perry and Herman Cain could cite the difficulty of competing in New Hampshire on a compressed schedule ... The news media, annoyed that the earlier date would require them to revisit their own plans for the campaign, might be happy to play along. It’s hard to know exactly how the spin war would unfold, but it’s possible that New Hampshire could come to be regarded as something of a curiosity or even a beauty contest.”

Just in case, New Hampshire voters might want to start their holiday shopping now.

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