The Corner

N.H. GOP Divided Over Nev. Boycott

New Hampshire Republicans are divided over the proposed boycott of Nevada’s caucuses.

Since the Silver State moved its caucuses to January 14, New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, has warned that he may need to hold the primary in December to comply with state law. The relevant statute requires the primary to occur at least seven days before a “similar” election. The definition of “similar” is open to interpretation, but because Iowa’s caucuses are scheduled for January 3, some Republicans see no other option but to hold the primary in 2011.

“Nevada has to be found to be a ‘similar’ event because when we drafted the legislation, what we had in mind was Iowa,” says Rep. D. J. Bettencourt, the Republican majority leader in the state house. A declared supporter of Mitt Romney, Bettencourt has asked all the presidential candidates to boycott the Nevada caucuses, though not necessarily tonight’s debate in Las Vegas too — as Jon Huntsman is doing. “Debates are an opportunity to hear from all the candidates. The location of the debate is less of a factor for me,” says Bettencourt.

Meanwhile, Wayne MacDonald, chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, told the Union Leader recently, “I’m not going to advocate a boycott of anyone’s state.” And Phyllis Woods, the Republican national committeewoman for the state, is agnostic on the subject.

“We appreciate any way they’re showing their support [of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status],” Woods tells NRO. “If some of them choose to boycott, that’s one way, but there are certainly other ways for other candidates to make their support known.”

Although MacDonald says he views “Florida as the aggressor in this situation” for moving its primary to January 31, the Republican speaker of the state house, Bill O’Brien, retorts, “I don’t think Nevada’s a victim of circumstance.” Furthermore, he warns Romney that a refusal to boycott the caucuses may hurt his electoral chances. “To the extent that it comes across that his campaign was the catalyst of Nevada’s decision, I think it’s going to cost him votes.”

Earlier this month, former Nevada governor Bob List told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the Romney campaign pushed the state to reschedule its caucuses. Romney’s aides expect to win the caucuses, and a second victory soon after a win in New Hampshire would add to the governor’s momentum.

When asked by the Des Moines Register whether it urged Nevada to hold its caucuses earlier, the Romney campaign responded with the following statement: “Governor Romney is running a national campaign and is prepared to compete in every state. He believes that Iowa’s first in-the-nation caucus and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary should be preserved, and he looks forward to competing in every other nominating contest — whenever they are scheduled.”

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