New Hampshire will not let the Democratic National Committee dictate when it holds its traditional earliest state presidential primary, party and political analysts predicted Friday.
State law requires Secretary of State William Gardner to protect the state's leadoff status, which Gardner has said repeatedly he will do even if it means moving the contest from January 2008 into late 2007.
"I know that law well," said its author, state Rep. Jim Splaine. "It will be used to protect our leadoff position. It must be."
What no one is saying is whether the law would be triggered in 2008 by putting caucuses in Nevada - in addition to Iowa's traditional leadoff caucuses - three days ahead of New Hampshire, with South Carolina's primary a week later.
The DNC is meeting this weekend in Chicago, where it is expected to vote Saturday for that lineup, which a study committee proposed to add racial and geographic diversity to the process.
Critics say it will doom underdogs by further front-loading the calendar.
If the plan is approved, New Hampshire law will require Gardner to decide whether the Nevada event is a "similar election" to the New Hampshire primary. If he decides it is, the law would require him to schedule the primary at least a week earlier.
Regardless, he won't be able to make that judgment until details for the Nevada caucuses are set - and until he is confident that no other state will schedule an early primary or caucus that would trigger the law.
Gardner reiterated Friday that he won't make that decision until late next year.
State Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said Saturday's vote will be far from the last word on New Hampshire's primary date.
"It's kind of like, `So what?' Bill Gardner has the jurisdiction and authority to set the date for our primary. He will do that sometime in the fall of 2007," she said.
Rogue campaigner punishment approved
Key Democrats on Friday agreed to punish Democratic presidential candidates who campaign in states that violate the party's 2008 primary-caucus schedule.
The move by the national party's rules and bylaws committee seeks to deter candidates from campaigning in renegade states by denying them delegates they may win in that state's nominating contest.
"If you campaign in a state that is outside the rules, then you're not entitled to delegates from that state," said Carole Khare Fowler, a rules committee member from South Carolina who made the proposal.
New Hampshire officials and observers have long pointed out that candidates will have to decide whether to campaign here long before the date of the primary is set.
Potential candidates have been coming to New Hampshire for months to line up activists for their campaigns. Dante Scala, a political science professor at Saint Anselm College, expects that to continue.
"I don't see at this point how candidates can find it in their self-interest to ignore New Hampshire," he said.
He and others also said the threat to New Hampshire of not having its delegates seated at the national convention - typically six months after the primary - means little. That mainly because the "splash" of winning or doing well in New Hampshire far outweighs the value of its votes at a convention. That's especially true because modern conventions tend to be party rallies for a presumptive nominee rather than forums for selecting him or her.
"I can't think of a time when New Hampshire's delegation decided a nomination," Scala said.
Gardner, who didn't schedule the Feb. 20, 1996, primary until December 1995 because of a threat from Delaware, said he must wait to set the date of the primary until he is confident other states won't jump ahead late in the game.
"I couldn't make any agreement with the DNC even if they said, `We'll put you in the second spot,'" he said.