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S.C. GOP expected to move primary to Jan. 19

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson is expected to announce today that the 2008 Republican Party primary will be Jan. 19, sources close to the party and several campaigns told The State newspaper.

The move, to be announced at an 11 a.m. news conference in Concord, N.H., likely will set off a major shuffling of the dates of the first several caucuses and primaries that will decide the 2008 presidential nominees of both parties.

One theory circulating Wednesday even had the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses moving to before Christmas.

Dawson and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner will meet reporters at the New Hampshire StateHouse to announce the long-awaited date of the 2008 S.C. vote.

"It's good for our state," Dawson said late Wednesday as he prepared to fly to New Hampshire. He would not confirm or deny the Jan. 19 date.

Dawson said he will make the announcement in the Granite State to illustrate what he said is a partnership with New Hampshire to fend off advances from much larger states that are trying to grab the spotlight that comes with an early primary.

"It's a partnership to make sure we have integrity in this process," Dawson said.

S.C. GOP executive director Hogan Gidley also would not confirm or deny the Jan. 19 date. Three sources confirmed the date to The State. Another said it would be Jan. 19 or Jan. 22.

Speculation is that Gardner, who has sole responsibility to set the dates of the Republican and Democratic primaries in New Hampshire, will announce that his state will vote Jan. 8, meaning Iowa could move its caucus to December.

One byproduct of the changes is that South Carolina Democrats, who plan to keep their Jan. 29 primary date, could get even more attention from the presidential campaigns.

The way the schedule eventually could play out, Iowa Republicans and Democrats would caucus in December, New Hampshire's Democratic and Republican primaries would be Jan. 8 and Nevada Democrats would caucus on Jan. 19, the day of the S.C. Republican primary.

That would leave 10 days between Nevada and the South Carolina Democratic primary.

While S.C. Democrats will share Jan. 29 with Florida, state party chairwoman Carol Khare Fowler said there is still "wiggling around happening on Florida."

The national Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, of which Fowler is a member, will meet Aug. 25 in Washington. Fowler said it's likely the committee will find Florida in "noncompliance" with DNC rules regarding the 2008 primary. She said Florida Democrats still might move.

Democrats approved their 2008 calendar in 2006, awarding Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina key early dates. Other states, the party said, could begin Feb. 2. The party said it would punish any state that violated that calendar by refusing the state's delegates seats at the 2008 national convention in Denver.

Fowler and Dawson have the ability, under South Carolina law, to set their own primary dates, despite national party rules. But Fowler said she has no plans to move the Democratic primary from Jan. 29. If she did, she said, South Carolinians would know about it first.

Legislation the S.C. General Assembly adopted this year requires the state to fund and operate the primaries. But Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the State Election Commission, said the agency has not been given a date for the GOP primary.

Cindy Costa, a S.C. Republican Party national committee member, said she didn't know Dawson was having a news conference to announce the date.

She said the state party's executive committee was meeting Saturday. "I'm just kind of surprised."

Costa said the Republican National Committee had set a Sept. 4 deadline for states to set their primary or caucus dates.

An official with the New Hampshire Republican Party, who asked not to be identified, said Dawson let Granite State Republicans know of his plan and "has been in touch with Secretary of State Bill Gardner."

"This is definitely a friendly maneuver on (Dawson's) part to provide a little solidarity with us," the New Hampshire official said. "Part of the reason he's coming up is to offer solidarity and say this entire system has run afoul and is a bad system."

In Iowa, the two major parties typically hold their caucuses on the same day, but they aren't required to. Carrie Giddins, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party said the Hawkeye State won't be toyed with.

"Iowa is not going to be driven by Republicans in South Carolina making a change to their primary date," Giddins said.

Still, Iowa's caucus is scheduled for Jan. 14, a Monday. The state, which traditionally hosts the first presidential preference event, will do everything in its power to retain that status.

"Nobody wants to go in December, but Iowa will remain first," Giddins said.

How the presidential preference primary calendar was originally set, and how it might end up.

CURRENT CALENDAR

Monday, Jan. 14, 2008: Iowa Republican and Democratic caucuses

Saturday, Jan. 19: Nevada Democratic caucus

Tuesday, Jan. 22: New Hampshire Republican and Democratic primaries

Tuesday, Jan. 29: South Carolina Democratic primary

Tuesday, Jan. 29: Florida Republican and Democratic primaries

Saturday, Feb. 2: South Carolina Republican primary

POSSIBLE REVISION:

Mid-December: Iowa Republican and Democratic caucuses

Tuesday, Jan. 8: New Hampshire Republican and Democratic primaries

Saturday, Jan. 19: S.C. Republican primary

Saturday, Jan. 19: Nevada Democratic caucus

Tuesday, Jan. 29: South Carolina Democratic primary

Tuesday, Jan. 29: Florida Republican and Democratic primaries

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