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CAMPAIGN 2012

Vegas or Bust for Romney

Spat between two early-voting states puts Republican presidential contender in a political dilemma

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Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney responds to a question as Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, looks on. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

(Updated: 9 p.m. ET)

In a move that could complicate his prospects in a critical early primary, Mitt Romney has decided not to join an effort by some of his fellow Republican presidential candidates to keep voting in the 2012 presidential election cycle from starting in 2011.

 

The Republican presidential candidate has no intention of joining GOP rivals threatening to boycott the Nevada Republican caucuses if the Silver State sticks with plans to hold the contest on Jan. 14, statements released Thursday evening by the Romney campaign signaled.

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“Gov. Romney is firmly committed to preserving New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary and the critical role it plays in selecting our Republican nominee,” said campaign spokesman Ryan Williams. But he made it clear that Romney is not endorsing any sanctions against Nevada for violating the schedule proposed by the Republican National Committee – an omission that could raise hackles in New Hampshire, a state that jealously guards its historic role in the vanguard of the presidential nomination process.

 

 “It is up to each state to determine the date of their primary or caucus,” Williams said.

Romney is not alone in his decision, Williams noted in an email to National Journal and CBS. GOP presidential rivals Rick Perry and Ron Paul also are declining to support the boycott, as is the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican party, according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader.

But the Romney camp took pains to underscore the candidate’s support for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Jim Merrill, a Romney aide in the Granite State, said in a statement: “Gov. Romney will compete in every nominating contest across the country, regardless of when they may be scheduled, so long as New Hampshire retains its first in the nation primary status.”

That status is not in doubt; the issue is how far in front of the pack New Hampshire will be. The state’s law requires its primary be held at least a week before “similar” contests. Right now, there’s not a big enough window for the Granite State between Iowa’s proposed Jan. 3 caucuses and Nevada’s proposed Jan. 14 date.

 

The proposed boycott is being organized by Republicans in New Hampshire, where Secretary of State Bill Gardner is threatening to hold the nation’s first presidential primary in December to preserve its historic status as the campaign kickoff. So far four Republican presidential candidates have agreed to skip the Nevada caucuses if they are not rescheduled: Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.

The spat between the Silver and Granite states puts Romney in an acute political dilemma. He needs a strong showing in New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home and near-favorite son status after his stint as governor of neighboring Massachusetts. But Nevada’s caucuses, which he won in a walk four years ago, also could provide important early momentum. And as a frontrunner in the race, it’s in Romney’s interest to push for the nominating contest to be over sooner rather than later.

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