The Democratic National Committed has set the Iowa caucuses for Feb. 1, followed by the New Hampshire primary Feb. 9, the Nevada caucuses Feb. 20 and the South Carolina primary Feb. 27. All other primaries and caucuses would then be held between March 1 and June 14, according to the new rules.
The primaries would start nearly a month after the 2012 and 2008 “first in the nation” Iowa caucuses, which in both years were held on Jan. 3.
Political experts say a shortened calendar could help a potential Clinton candidacy by limiting the time for a less-established Democratic opponent to raise money and support that would be needed to defeat her.
“For a lesser-known candidate to compete, he needs time and lots of states to build momentum,” Patrick Hynes, a GOP political consultant based in Concord, N.H., said. “You deprive him of that, then it’s game over.”
But states don’t have to follow party primary calendar and have jumped in earlier in past years, forcing Iowa and New Hampshire to move earlier in the year to maintain their first-in-the-nation status.
This time around, several states are positioned to make their contests earlier than allowed. Democrats won’t likely know until next year whether they’ll be locked in fights with states who defy the schedule and set their primaries earlier in 2016.
Republicans are expected to approve a primary calendar that is similar to the one set by Democrats, with the goal of shortening the nomination process for the GOP candidate. They face a similar problem with states seeking January and February contests.
“We are in the first step of the process,” Josh Putnam, a political science professor at Appalachian State University and author of the influential political primary blog Frontloading HQ. “Both parties will finalize their rules, then we will spend all of next year looking at how states react to those rules. Whether they decide to fall in line we don’t know yet.”
Michigan has passed a law setting its primary on Feb. 24, while North Carolina has set a Feb. 16 date for its primary. If the two states don’t move to March, it would push up the dates for the four early states.
Florida could also upset the calendar. The state has moved its primary in past elections in an effort to be more influential in determining the winner and could do so again. The Sunshine State held its 2012 primary on Jan. 31 and its 2008 primary on Jan. 29, forcing the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to go earlier.
“There are still a lot of people in Florida that really do not see the utility of Iowa going first,” University of South Florida political science professor Sue MacManus said. “They think that is an old model and that Iowa is out of sync with where the party wants to go. This is why Michigan and Florida both jump ahead.”
But this time around, the Democratic party has established a new policy that would strip states of most of their convention delegates if they violate the rules and hold primaries or caucuses prior to March 1. In past elections, they lost half their delegates. Some believe the state’s decision to hold its primary in January cost Clinton the nomination in 2008 because half of Florida’s delegates were not able to nominate her at the convention.
Michael Grebner, a Democratic strategist based in Lansing, Mich., said the Democratic primary schedule will be irrelevant if Hillary Clinton runs, because it’s unlikely she’ll have significant opponents.
“We might end up with a great big mess,” if Clinton does not enter the race, Grebner said. “But there’s a pretty good chance we’ll end up with Hillary.”