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Starting Gate: Not Waiting For '08?

(CBS)
Now that we can start making our plans for New Year's Eve, it's time to think about where we're going to be spending Thanksgiving. Dixville Notch anyone?

Iowa Republicans have made the decision to move their caucuses up from January 3rd, a week and a half earlier than previously planned. Iowa Democrats could follow or keep theirs at the original January 14th date. Now, the ball is in New Hampshire's court and that means Secretary of State Bill Gardner. He alone has the power under state law to set the primary date and he's making it clear that the possibility of moving it to December is no idle threat.

Moves by Michigan, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida have complicated the primary process for New Hampshire and Iowa to the point that making such a drastic move may be the best way to ensure the traditional roles Iowa and New Hampshire have become accustomed to. Gardner could decide to set the primary date for January 8th but that may not be acceptable from his perspective.

First, Wyoming Republicans have scheduled their nominating convention for January 5th, and the 8th would technically leave New Hampshire as the third contest. Practically speaking however, Wyoming appears to pose little threat to New Hampshire's importance in the process. When's the last time we saw a campaign ad in Cheyenne? A more important consideration may be space and time.

Holding the primaries on the 8th (putting it by rule a full week before the Michigan primary) means that candidates, at least on the Republican side, will have just five dasy in between Iowa and New Hampshire instead of having a full week or more. And that means less time, attention and money flowing into the state. Campaigns and the hordes of media that follow them spend hundreds of millions in the state each four years and a sizable chunk of it comes in the week or two leading up to the primary. If the state becomes sandwiched in between other contests, it may mean all that is literally here today, gone tomorrow.

Holding the primary in December (Gardner has hinted at a date as early as the 11th) could once again put the state in the center of the political universe for a sustained period of time – from Thanksgiving to the primary date. The state would literally be the only game in town unless Iowa Republicans sought to move again, something they've said they will not do.

Should Gardner decide that, however, he may be risking New Hampshire's position in campaigns to come (not to mention potential backlash from the national parties). Already there are movements in Congress to take over an out-of-control process from the states and putting a primary in the calendar year before the election may be the final straw. But, even if Congress does nothing, other states have shown they are no longer going to let Iowa and New Hampshire control the process. So, perhaps if this is going to be New Hampshire's last hurrah, it might as well be a loud one. December, here we come?

More Calendar Shuffling: Iowa Republicans weren't the only ones making a move yesterday. South Carolina Democrats are moving their primary to January 26th, pending DNC approval, in order to gain some separation from Florida's primary on the 29th. Both South Carolina parties had originally scheduled their contests for the 29th and had that date all to themselves until Florida moved. Republicans have already moved theirs to January 19th.

Bob Jones III Back In Primary Politics: CBS News' Scott Conroy reports:

Bob Jones III reemerged on the political scene on Tuesday afternoon when he endorsed Mitt Romney for president.

Jones generated headlines during the 2000 presidential campaign, when then Governor George W. Bush made a controversial visit to the fundamentalist Christian university that bears his name. At the time, Bob Jones University banned interracial dating—a policy Jones reversed soon after Bush's visit.

Romney, whose Mormon faith has raised questions about his electability, has had some success in courting Christian leaders as of late, but Jones' endorsement seems striking at first glance. In 2000, Jones described Mormonism and Catholicism as "cults which call themselves Christian," on his university's Web site, according to the Associated Press.

But Jones decided to look past his deep-seated theological differences with Romney in backing the former Massachusetts governor.

"As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism," Jones told the Greenville News of South Carolina. "But I'm not voting for a preacher. I'm voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs."

Romney's South Carolina campaign manager told the Greenville News that the campaign was "proud to have the support of Dr. Jones," but Romney's national campaign did not issue a press release, as it usually does when Romney receives a major endorsement.

When asked by CBS News about Jones' endorsement, Romney's national press secretary Kevin Madden wrote in an e-mail message, "We are grateful for the growing support for Governor Romney's campaign and welcome the endorsement of grassroots conservative leaders."

Jones' endorsement is a tricky situation for the Romney campaign. On the one hand, the backing of another prominent Christian conservative lends credence to the idea that Romney's Mormonism is not a deal-breaker for the powerful "values voters" bloc. But being associated with such a divisive public figure could raise eyebrows with socially moderate Republicans and independent voters.

Around The Track

  • Niki Tsongas, the widow of former Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, won a seat in Congress yesterday, defeating Republican Jim Ogonowski in a special election. Tsongas will represent Massachusetts'5th District, the same seat her late husband once held.
  • A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that Fred Thompson's support has dropped eight points in the past month. Giuliani now leads the national poll with 27% among GOP voters with Thompson falling to 19% and John McCain close behind at 17%. Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by 30 points in the poll, 51% to 21%.
  • Dick Cheney and Brack Obama related? It appears so. How long before we see that info in a Democratic primary ad?
  • Tom Tancredo becomes the first of the commonly recognized candidates to file for the New Hampshire primary, citing the remarkable run of the Colorado Rockies as his campaign inspiration: "Anything can happen."
  • It was only a matter of timing: Stephen Colbert is running for president. In South Carolina.