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Early 2008 political calendar beginning to look overbooked

  • Story Highlights
  • Multiple states moving primaries and caucuses to January 2008
  • To maintain first status, New Hampshire must reschedule primary
  • Iowa may be forced to schedule caucus near New Year's Day
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The January 2008 political calendar is beginning to look like an overbooked airplane. Somebody's going to get bumped.

art.iowa.snow.gi.jpg

Will Iowa caucus goers have to trudge through the snow in December?

"We don't know what date New Hampshire's going to hold their primary. We don't know what date Iowa's going to hold their caucuses. There's a lot of unresolved issues, and I don't think we'll see those answers for a couple months," said CNN Political Editor Mark Preston.

All we do know is that Iowa is determined to hold the first-in-the nation caucuses. And New Hampshire is determined to hold the first primary.

Right now, Michigan is poised to defy Democratic Party rules and schedule its primary for January 15. That means New Hampshire and Iowa have got to figure out how to squeeze their events into the first two weeks of 2008.

By law, the New Hampshire primary must take place at least a week before any similar event. That means Tuesday, January 8.

But Iowa traditionally holds its caucuses eight days before New Hampshire. Are Iowans really going to hold presidential caucuses on December 31 when the rest of the country will be ringing in the New Year?

Iowa insists its caucuses will not be pushed back into 2007. So maybe they could hold a post-hangover caucus on Thursday, January 3.

Then New Hampshire might feel crowded, with Iowa only five days before. So maybe New Hampshire could hold its primary on Thursday, January 10 even though by law it has held its primary on a Tuesday for more than 30 years.

"I would not say that it's beyond the realm of possibility that it could be a day other than a Tuesday," explained New Hampshire's Secretary of State William M. Gardner.

OK, but what about that pesky law saying there has to be a week before the next primary?

Well, Michigan is kind of a hybrid event somewhere between a caucus and a primary. So New Hampshire might see some wiggle room there.

"Nothing is off the table," Gardner added.

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin is urging his state to go even earlier, on January 8. What would New Hampshire do then?

"We're going to go to the year before if we have to," said Gardner.

Then Iowa would have to choose between being first-in-the-nation and staying in 2008.

Who's helped by all the overbooking? The candidates with the most money and the highest name recognition -- like Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

With such a crowded calendar, they have the resources to compete in big states like Florida and Michigan and to recover quickly from a setback in Iowa or New Hampshire.

All of this will begin to be straightened out when Gardner announces the date of the New Hampshire primary. And when will he do that?

"The earliest that I've done it in recent times was September 28," said Gardner.

And the latest?

"December 20th," added Gardner.

But there is another state that should not be overlooked in the overcrowded primary calendar. The first votes in the nation actually could be cast in California where absentee voters who will begin receiving their ballots on January 3. The best-funded campaigns are already calling, writing, and e-mailing those voters.

There are some 2 million regular absentee voters in California -- more than the number of people who usually vote in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina combined. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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