Donald Lambro

How much effect the emerging primary scramble will have on the early January contests remains to be seen, and initially New Hampshire voting officials did not seem troubled by Florida's move to Jan. 29 -- presumably far enough away from their own exclusive Jan. 22 spot on the calendar.

"I understand why [Florida is] doing it and that's OK," New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said last week, adding that he would wait until this fall to set an official date.

But Dawson's plan to move ahead of Florida would send it deep into the Granite State's near-sacrosanct domain. If there was any doubt about that, he sent this warning shot across New Hampshire's bow: "I'm sure they will have to move their date up," he told me.

This rescrambling of next year's primary calendar means several things will happen next year when the two major parties go about choosing their presidential nominees.

First, we will likely know who the nominees will be earlier than anyone previously thought. New Hampshire could schedule its primary right after New Years Day, if not earlier, weeding out the lower tier candidates still in the single digits. Iowa, in order to preserve its place at the head of the line, might hold their caucuses even earlier.

The identity of the clear frontrunners and likely nominees will probably come into focus by the end of January after Nevada, South Carolina and then Florida. Then comes the Super Primary on Feb. 5 when nearly two dozen states could hold their contests, providing a bonanza of delegate votes from megastates like New York and California that will all but nail down the nominations.

But what happens next? There will be the remaining mop-up work in the lesser primaries, followed by a long and costly dark time where the presumptive nominees must struggle to maintain visibility with very little to do until the late summer conventions.

Keeping their parties energized over this lengthy down time will be a challenge for any candidate, but especially the Democratic nominee who will have to endure a four-to-five month gauntlet of Republican attacks -- something the GOP is unusually good at. Ask John Kerry.

Maybe that's when the front-loaded primaries will not seem like such a good idea.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.