A Post-Thanksgiving New Hampshire Primary?

The Granite State could hold its primary as early as Dec. 6 if Nevada doesn't move its January caucus a few days

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CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire's primary could be held as early as Dec. 6, 2011, Secretary of State William Gardner warned today.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Garnder, who sets the date, said that if Nevada sticks with its current plan to hold a caucus on Jan. 14, "I cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary."

Gardner wants Nevada to accept a date of Jan. 17 or later in order to keep the 2012 primaries from spilling into 2011. But if it does not, he said, "The dates of Tuesday, December 13th, and Tuesday, December 6th are realistic options, and we have logistics in place to make either date happen if needed."

The primary calendar has been in chaos since a Florida panel decided to hold that state's primary on Jan. 31, scratching the parties' plans to delay the beginning of the nominating process until February.

South Carolina has scheduled its primary for Jan. 21, prompting Nevada's Republican Party to claim Jan. 14, a Saturday, for its caucus. Iowa Republicans have signaled they are looking at Jan. 3 for their caucus.

New Hampshire law requires that Gardner set the first-in-the-nation primary seven days before any other primary contest save Iowa's.

"We cannot allow the political process to squeeze us into a date that wedges us by just a few days between two major caucus states," Gardner wrote today. "Our primary will have little meaning if states crowd into holding their events just hours after our polls have closed."

Gardner, who has been responsible for the New Hampshire primary since he took office in 1976, has been through plenty of similar confrontations with other would-be early states over the years. He's proud of his record of never having changed New Hampshire's date after he's declared it, which he does unilaterally.

He's a canny operator who knows that deploying this sort of threat will create an uproar. He's also an amiable history buff who loves to extol the virtues of the New Hampshire primary, as he does in the current statement, which has headings that read "Democracy is hard work" and "New Hampshire is first for a reason."

In an interview, Gardner suggested Nevada should have gone after South Carolina, noting that Republican National Committee rules mention the states in that order -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

He also said he was in no hurry to decide on a date, noting he's waited until later  in the cycle in the past to set the primary.

Nevada first held early caucuses in 2008 based on a Democratic rule pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Democratic candidates competed hard for the state, but the GOP candidates largely ignored it in favor of South Carolina, which held its primary on the same day that year.

Image credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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