Some Early Thoughts On The Primary Calendar, Version 9.4

Globally, the earlier the nomination contests begin, the better for those who hold leads in those states at that time. A Jan. 3. Iowa caucus date allows for virtually no momentum generation for insurgents after the holiday season.

Regardless of whether candidates campaign during the last week of December, voters will probably be as distracted by Christmas, New Years, sales, Apple's latest what-not, the BCS, resolutions, family squabbles, all of that, as usual.

If Bill Gardner decides to schedule the New Hampshire primary for December, he risks not only the wrath of the entire two-party establishment (which isn't that scary), New Hampshire could very well be meaningless for one of the parties. Republicans, in particular, might cede the state to Mitt Romney. Democrats probably won't, but the style and pace of campaigning for the primary will feel more like a caucus: lots of trench warfare, confusing, muddled messages, appeals to secondary candidates, and dirty tricks. New Hampshire independents, in particular, will not have a candidate to revolt against. Rank and file Democrats won't have a candidate's victory to be influenced by.

But wait: maybe the three weeks between New Hampshire and Iowa and the relatively paltry amount of delegates awarded by the state will render the state entirely irrelevant. If you're putting all your resources into Iowa, it's probably a safer bet, at this point, to ignore New Hampshire entirely and hope that the New Hampshire winner's momentum attenuates over the long holiday period.

If the Dems hold their caucuses on Jan. 14, there's plenty of time for an insurgent (or even a national frontrunner) who doesn't hold a lead in Iowa to quickly run the table. Everyone is paying attention after the holidays and free and earned media is almost dispositive. It is during this two-week period that the performance of politics really matters.

If the parties split their dates, then the winner of the Jan. 3. Iowa Republican caucus could very well influence who Democrats vote for if New Hampshire decides to run a Jan. 8 primary. If Rudy Giuliani wins, will Democrats be tender to questions of electability? If Mitt Romney wins, might they feel more confident about selecting the nominee of their heart's desire? The media will almost certainly lay things out in these terms, and they are sure to influence voter preferences.

The Giuliani campaign has been able to subtly dismiss Iowa in part because they contend, quite correctly, that the media cares more about the Democratic contest and will devote a disproportionate amount of energy to covering it from the Democratic perspective. But if Jan. 3 is the first-in-the-nation vote -- if the first Democratic vote is Jan. 8 -- this assumes that Wm. Gardner sets a January date, not a December date -- then, well, there's a problem with this strategy.

South Carolina's position probably changes the least -- it's still the firewall state for Democrats (on the 26th) and Republicans (on the 19th), although perhaps less so for the Republicans if delegates are spread around the field. Can Fred Thompson build a bridge to South Carolina if he starts in Iowa with, say, a third place finish, does poorly in New Hampshire, Michigan and Nevada and splits the vote in South Carolina? Does he have enough money to stay on television?