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South Carolina GOP moves up primary, adds to 2008 scramble

  • Story Highlights
  • South Carolina GOP moves state's presidential primary to January 19
  • Republicans want to preserve status as first Southern state to vote
  • Move likely will force New Hampshire to move January primary to earlier date
  • Iowa may push its caucus date up after New Hampshire sets its date
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By Mark Preston
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CONCORD, New Hampshire (CNN) -- The South Carolina Republican Party announced Thursday it would hold its primary on January 19, more than two weeks before as many as 20-plus other states hold their nominating contests.

South Carolina Republicans have moved their primary up to January 19 instead of February 2.

"Today is truly a historic occasion," South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said at a news conference in New Hampshire's State Capitol building, where he announced his party's primary date.

The move was an effort to preserve its status as the first Southern state to vote in the 2008 GOP presidential nominating contest, party insiders said.

The South Carolina Republican primary originally was scheduled for February 2, but Florida moved its primary to January 29, prompting South Carolina GOP officials to push up their primary.

Dawson purposely chose New Hampshire's capital city -- 1,000 miles north of his state -- to declare the date officially. It was a symbolic move by Dawson and now links these two states, which are fighting to preserve their individual roles in helping to select the next president.

"We at the South Carolina Republican Party respect New Hampshire's historically significant place in presidential politics," Dawson said. "And we are here to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends in New Hampshire to reaffirm the importance of preserving the prominent roles both of our states play in presidential politics."

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner and several Granite State Republicans and Democrats stood with Dawson as he made the announcement. Gardner described Dawson's decision to make the announcement in New Hampshire "a truly ... extraordinary kind gesture of good will (to) the people of New Hampshire and their cherished primary tradition."

Gardner did not disclose the date of his state's primary, which will be announced at a later time. While Gardner indicated he would prefer a calendar that would allow Iowa to hold its nominating contest in 2008, he vowed to follow New Hampshire's state law that dictates it is the first state in the nation to hold a presidential primary.

"I have said that for us I would prefer to stay in the calendar year that the president is elected," Gardner said in an interview with CNN. "But I have also said that ... tradition is first and foremost, and if we have to we will go the year before.

"So it is not off the table," he added.

When New Hampshire does set a date, it will be one of the final and arguably most influential pieces of a calendar that has been thrown into chaos as more states try to influence significantly the presidential nominating process.

What is known is that New Hampshire will no longer stay on its current date of January 22 and will move to an earlier day in the month. At that point, Iowa officials will announce a date to hold their caucuses -- the first nominating contests of the 2008 presidential election cycle. Gardner said that he expects to continue talking to officials in Iowa.

An Iowa Democratic Party official said that there are no plans to hold the state's caucuses around the Christmas holidays despite the decisions by other states to move up their nominating contests into January.

"Iowa is not going to be driven by the Republican Party in South Carolina making a change to their primary date," said Carrie Giddins, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party. "Nobody wants to go in December, and Iowa will remain first in the nation."

The Iowa Republican Party, which is hosting its straw poll in the city of Ames this weekend, is waiting to see what New Hampshire decides before announcing a date for its caucuses.

"We are not going to make any comment or announcement until New Hampshire announces its primary date," said Mary Tiffany, communications director for the Iowa Republican Party.

Another major unanswered question is what date will the South Carolina Democratic Party set its primary?

Right now, South Carolina Democrats are scheduled for January 29, the same day Florida is set to hold its primary. There might be pressure now to allow South Carolina Democrats to join Republicans 10 days earlier -- a move that would save the state money and give the Palmetto State its own day in the sun.

Dawson said he would welcome it if the South Carolina Democratic Party decided to hold its primary on the same day. To do so, the South Carolina Democratic Party would need to get permission from the Democratic National Committee.

So far, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida -- in that order -- will hold presidential primaries or caucuses in January. The Michigan Democratic Party is also talking about holding its own nominating contest in January.

The nomination calendar is shaping up to a point that it is likely Republicans and Democrats will know their presidential nominees on February 5, when 20-plus states hold their primaries.

The early voting contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida could set the stage for a final showdown February 5, which has been dubbed "Super-Duper Tuesday."

South Carolina and Florida will be in violation of Republican National Committee rules that require them to wait until February 5 to hold nominating contests, but that has not deterred party leaders in both states from disregarding them. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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