Primary Calendar: Voting in January and the ‘Big Mo’

South Carolina and Florida have made the primary calendar both clearer and more complicated. But until we hear from New Hampshire and Iowa – and many expect that New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner won’t make a decision before the filing deadline closes Oct. 28 –  we won’t know for sure when exactly the official kick-off the campaign 2012 begins.

Here’s the thinking, for now:

Jan. 2 or 3: Iowa caucus;

Jan. 10: New Hampshire primary;

Jan. 17: Nevada caucus (although they’d have to change rules because it’s supposed to be on a Saturday);

Jan. 21: South Carolina primary;

Jan. 31 – Florida primary;

Feb. 28: Arizona and Michigan primaries.

Here’s my somewhat unconventional take on a pushed-up primary process. Some would argue that pushing the primary to January benefits the current frontrunners: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. After all, those who have built up the campaign infrastructure and cash reserves are the ones best able to take advantage of a shorter primary schedule.

There is also the theory that the winner(s) of the January contests, especially the first two in Iowa and New Hampshire, will have an unstoppable momentum. Winning brings attention. Attention attracts money. Money keeps a campaign alive. Without momentum, you’ve got nothing to sell to donors.

This momentum is even more important when there will be potentially a three-week gap between the last primary in January (Florida) and the first significant primaries in February (Arizona and Michigan Feb. 28). Candidates who struggle in the early primaries and caucuses are going to have a hard time finding the money needed to compete in February and March primaries.

What can change this “momentum theory,” however, are the super PACs .  Almost every major candidate has an unaffiliated outside group raising money to try to help them. For example, Restore Our Future , a super PAC set up by former Romney aides and backers, reported raising $12 million as of  July.

This kind of money can help keep a struggling candidate alive, or used to try to undermine the success of a surging candidate.

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