Donald Lambro

Tiny New Hampshire traditionally follows (Jan. 22), but the Democratic Party decided it wanted to give the West an earlier say in the process, so Nevada will hold caucuses just before the Granite State. South Carolina is next on Jan. 29.

A few days later, the big four states are hoping to join eight others in a Super Tuesday contest that officials say will all but seal the nominations for the presidential election.

That would leave 30 or more states to essentially ratify what the front-loaders have already decided. That's not democracy and that's not fair, say the system's critics.

Who will be helped most by this compressed primary schedule? I put that question to several campaign strategists who have been tracking the early jockeying among the candidates, and here's their take:

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign funding advantage will allow her to compete in all of the big four's expensive media markets, which are all but closed to the poorly funded dark horses. She holds an early lead in the New Jersey polls, in her native state of Illinois and in California.

On the Republican side, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani holds a strong lead in neighboring New Jersey, and California and Illinois are considered favorable territory for him as well.

"A primary schedule that is front-loaded with the large states is going to work to the advantage of the candidates who are better funded and are showing the strongest lead in the polls at the outset. If you take the lead in early January, you can convert it into a prohibitive delegate lead in the bigger states," said Mac Stipanovich, a Florida Republican campaign strategist.

"The guys who are further back in the pack want a longer primary campaign, with big states, if not in the back of the schedule, at least dispersed through the spring and summer," Stipanovich said.

But that's not going to happen, though the camp of one long shot -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- believes the front-runners we see now may not be at the head of the pack in January.

"Hillary will have a formidable campaign, but that doesn't mean she will have an insurmountable campaign by any stretch of the imagination," says New Mexico Democratic chairman John Wertheim.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.