Did Mitt Romney 'bully states' to rig the primary calendar?

Chaos breaks out as Republicans move primaries earlier in state after state — and the presidential frontrunner's rivals cry foul

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pushed the Nevada GOP to push the Silver State caucuses well into January to help give his campaign a boost, according to one former Nevada governor.
(Image credit: Brooks Kraft/Corbis)

The Republican primary calendar was thrown into turmoil this week, as Nevada Republicans — following in the footsteps of their counterparts in Florida — decided to hold their presidential caucuses a month earlier than originally planned. The move caused Rick Santorum to accuse Mitt Romney of bullying party officials, and raised the likelihood that the first contest in the 2012 primary process could occur right after New Years. Here's what you should know:

What exactly happened?

First, Florida tried to increase the Sunshine State's influence by announcing that its presidential primary vote would be held on Jan. 31, even though the Republican National Committee's rules state that only the four traditional early voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — can go before March 6. Once Florida leapfrogged the pack, South Carolina moved its primary up to Jan. 21, and Nevada switched its caucuses from Feb. 18 to Jan. 14. It's unclear when New Hampshire's primary will be — but Iowa has now reportedly pegged Jan. 3 as the tentative date for its first-in-the-nation caucuses.

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What does Romney have to do with this?

Officially, his campaign won't comment. But ex-Nevada Gov. Robert List said that the Romney camp, with its candidate polling well in the Silver State, lobbied hard for the change. "Romney's people were pushing for us to move into January," List said, as quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "so that he could get some momentum and have a rising tide going into Florida."

And that's a bad thing?

It's certainly sparking infighting on the campaign trail. Santorum accused Romney of "trying to bully states" into rigging the election calendar to give the former Massachusetts governor a better shot. GOP hopeful Jon Huntsman also accused Romney of trying to "game the system."

Will the calendar chaos really help Romney?

It seems all but certain that there are suddenly fewer than 100 days before the voting starts. That clearly favors "candidates with the money and organizational muscle already in place to produce and capitalize on early wins in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida," says Howard Fineman at The Huffington Post. "That means Romney and, to a lesser extent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry." And when GOP candidates are accusing each other of "gaming the system," says Jed Lewison at Daily Kos, they'll all look a little silly.

Sources: Daily Kos, Huff. Post, Las Vegas Review-Journal, NY Times, Outside the Beltway, Politico

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