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Iowa caucus move could scramble primaries

  • Story Highlights
  • Iowa Republicans will hold caucus on January 3
  • New Hampshire law requires its primary to be a week before any other
  • Michigan primary on January 15 puts New Hampshire in tight spot
  • South Carolina Democrats want earlier primary; Nevada Democrats OK date
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(CNN) -- The Iowa Republican Party will hold its caucus January 3 to beat other states' rush to move up their primaries in the presidential nomination process.

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Democratic supporters gather before a debate last month at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Iowa GOP leaders settled on the date, even though it will butt up against the holidays and compete with the Orange Bowl to preserve their party's status as the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

But two big questions remain unresolved: Will Iowa Democrats join their GOP colleagues on January 3? And what date will New Hampshire choose for its primary?

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner commonly notes that state law dictates no similar event can take place seven days before or after its primary.

Gardner has been coy about what date he will pick, vowing not to be influenced by anything other than what is in his state's best interest. Holding the Granite State primary in December is not "off the table," Gardner said earlier this year. Video Watch how states keep moving up their primary dates »

Gardner had said that January 8 is the earliest his state would hold its primary, but he wouldn't make a decision until other states schedule their contests. "We're going to go to the year before if we have to," he said.

Like Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus, New Hampshire has had a historic lock on being the kickoff primary state. But Iowa's and New Hampshire's unique status has been threatened this presidential cycle because larger states such as Florida and Michigan are trying to gain more influence in the process. Florida has moved its primary to January 29, while Michigan has pushed its up even earlier -- to January 15.

Despite having to schedule its contest right after the holidays, Iowa Republicans expressed satisfaction with the move.

"With under 80 days to go, this is a huge help to our counties and county chairs to get the ball rolling and start organizing," said Chuck Laudner, executive director of the Iowa GOP, in a statement.

"They have 1,784 precinct caucus meetings to run, thousands of volunteers to recruit, and our presidential candidates deserve a set date," Laudner said. "This is a definitive year for Iowa, and it is crucial that RPI, the State Central Committee and our county organizations run a smooth, successful caucus."

Iowa Republicans had considered holding their caucus on January 5 but that scheduling would have gone up against an NFL playoff game.

The Iowa GOP said it would "communicate and work with the Iowa Democratic Party over the coming months to plan the Iowa Caucuses and ensure we maintain our first-in-the-nation status," but Iowa Democrats gave no commitment on holding their caucus January 3 also.

"The Iowa Democratic Party is planning for a January caucus that is run professionally and with integrity," the Iowa Democratic Party said in a prepared statement Tuesday night. "We will decide our caucus date based ultimately on what is best for the people of Iowa and the Democratic Party."

Meanwhile, South Carolina Democrats will ask the Democratic National Committee to move their primary up three days from its original January 29 date to give it some separation from Florida.

Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation to hold his state's primary January 29, even though such date is in violation of DNC and Republican National Committee rules governing nominating contests.

The DNC has ruled that none of Florida's delegates will be counted, while the RNC will penalize the state by cutting its delegate allotment in half.

Most Democratic candidates have pledged not to participate in any state that violates DNC rules. Florida Democrats are fighting those sanctions.

As for South Carolina, a member of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee predicted the request would be honored. The rules panel must approve it.

"I think that we can make a good case that we want to make sure all eyes are on that primary in South Carolina instead of Florida," said the DNC source, who requested anonymity because a vote has not yet occurred.

The South Carolina Republican Party has identified January 19 as the date for its primary, but a state Democratic Party official said the GOP is welcome to move its date.

"We encourage the South Carolina Republicans to move their date to help save state taxpayer dollars," said Joe Werner, executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

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Meanwhile, Nevada Democrats said January 19 would work fine for their caucus, shelving a plan to move it a week earlier.

That date "best showcases our state as the first test of the Western vote, the Hispanic vote and the labor vote," said Jill Derby, chair of the Nevada Democratic Party. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mark Preston and Chris Welch contributed to this report.

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