One school holds that the earliest caucus and primary states--Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and, for the Democrats at least, Nevada--now matter more than ever, since only three weeks separate the Iowa caucuses from the February 5 round of states, making it difficult for candidates to recover from weak finishes in those states. The theory also says that competing in so many states simultaneously on February 5 will be financially impossible, making early momentum essential.
But the other school says that the February 5 primaries greatly diminish the historic weight of the earliest caucuses and primaries, giving well-financed candidates the ability to compete in as many as a dozen or more states, even if they sustain losses in the earliest states.
Many campaign aides say that because the prospect of so many primaries happening so early is a new development, they are only beginning to grapple with how to adjust traditional campaign tactics.
The primary nominating contest "used to be a game of checkers relying on early state momentum," says Kevin Madden, spokesman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. "Now we have a game of three-dimensional chess, with so many dynamics at play and still a lot of unknowns."
Five states have already moved up existing primaries or caucuses or introduced new primaries or caucuses on February 5 or earlier--joining four states that held their primaries hard on the heels of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina in the last cycle. Another 17 states are seriously considering similar moves. "In 2000, there were nine states that voted by the end of February, and in 2004 that number jumped to 19," says Kay Stimson, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State, which has been critical of the increasingly frontloaded primary. "By next year, it might be as high as 30 or more states."
See Monday's issue of U.S. News & World Report or www.usnews.com/politics for information on how the individual campaigns are responding.
By Dan Gilgoff