New Hampshire sets February 1 primary date
September 28, 1999
Web posted at: 6:11 p.m. EDT (2211 GMT)
CONCORD, New Hampshire (CNN) -- New Hampshire, the site of the nation's first presidential primary, will move up the date of the vote to February 1, 2000, the state secretary of state's office announced Tuesday.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner said the main reason for the earlier than expected date is that Delaware officials have told him they will probably hold their Republican primary on February 8.
State law requires New Hampshire's primary to be held a week before any other state's primary.
The new date will likely accelerate the already front-loaded presidential primary season. So many other states have moved up their primaries that three-quarters of the U.S. population could vote during the first 10 days of March.
Usually, the New Hampshire primary is held eight days after the Iowa caucuses, which are tentatively scheduled for January 31, 2000. The Iowa dates could change now that New Hampshire has changed its date.
"Most of the campaigning will take place in 1999 when relatively few voters are paying attention," said Washington Post political columnist David Broder. "It's really a disadvantage to the process and to the public to have this kind of ridiculously early calendar."
So far, 17 states are scheduled to hold primaries or caucuses next March 7, 2000 as more and more states have moved their primaries into early March in an effort to play a larger role in selecting presidential nominees. Gardner said earlier this year that only nine or 10 states held primaries the first week in March in 1996.
Other states have moved their primaries even earlier. South Carolina is holding its Republican primary on February 19.
In response to those pressures, the New Hampshire Legislature changed state law earlier this year to allow the primary to be held as early as December.
The date change has upset Democratic officials who were already upset with the early primary date as New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen discovered at Saturday's meeting of the Democratic National Committee.
"Before I begin I really must also thank the Rules Committee for continuing to preserve the window that maintains the New Hampshire primary. We very much appreciate your support," she said. "I know everybody doesn't agree with it but we think its important."
Some strategists say the early date may work to Bill Bradley's advantage. If he upsets Al Gore in New Hampshire, he'd have five weeks to build momentum before the next major Democratic primary.
New Hampshire has jealously guarded its first-in-the nation status since former President Dwight D. Eisenhower's victory here in 1952 put the state primary on the map. For its first two decades, the primary wasn't held until on the second week in March
The state first moved its date up to the first week in March in 1972 to fend of a challenge from Florida. By 1996, the date was February 20.
"The process has been moved so far forward by this mad scramble of states to be at the head of the line that what used to be the opening day of the presidential competition is now the closing day," Broder said. "I mean by March 14th of 2000, we will clearly know who the two party nominees are going to be."
CNN's Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.