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Christmas in Sioux City

They better start laying in the Champagne in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, because it looks like it's going to be another holiday season in Iowa for the political circus. Florida Republicans today announced that they would, as they'd been threatening to, move their primary to January 31st. This will push the traditional first four states earlier into January, with one plausible scenario putting the Iowa caucuses on January 9, the New Hampshire primary on January 17, the Nevada caucuses on January 21 and the South Carolina primary January 28. The next move falls to New Hampshire, whose delightfully (or maddeningly) inscrutable secretary of state, Bill Gardner, is expected to announce a date next week; this afternoon, he simply put out a statement that the crowding forward of the calendar meant that the state's filing deadline for candidates would be October 28.

Florida's move is further proof that the parties' attempts to get control of the calendar by punishing leapfrogging states with the threat of withheld delegates is a failure. (After all, Florida Republicans have already been chosen as the host of the 2012 convention, in Tampa -- another brilliant decision, South Florida in August); what do they care if they are technically not seated in the convention hall? (And odds are they can get themselves in at the last minute, as Florida's Democratic delegates managed to do last time around, despite having also broken the calendar rules.) Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn vented the frustration felt by the aggrieved early states in a harsh statement after the Florida announcement:

The arrogance shown by Florida's elected leadership is disappointing, but not surprising. Equally troubling is to see this petulant behavior rewarded with our national convention. The consequences of Florida's intransigence must be swift and severe, including the refusal by the RNC to credential or seat any member of Florida's presidential primary date commission at the 2012 RNC convention in Tampa.

Seen one way, though, the front-loading has the potential to only enhance Iowa (and arguably New Hampshire) at the expense of the other early states, including Florida -- because the voting will come in such close succession, the bounce to be gained from the first one or two will be all the more important.  "When you compress all the races, it makes momentum even more important because you don't have time to recover," said Doug Gross, a former Iowa gubernatorial nominee who was state co-chair for Mitt Romney in 2008 but has not yet committed to a candidate this time around.

The front-loading, Gross notes, also makes it "very difficult if not impossible" for anyone contemplating a late entry, notably a certain hard-charging New Jersey governor.  Even Rick Perry, Gross said, might have some trouble getting his organization up in time for the January rush. Gross said that while Perry had "started strong" in Iowa, his recent setbacks in the debates and the Florida straw poll have left him vulnerable in the Hawkeye State. "Right now, there's an opportunity for Romney to beat him in Iowa," Gross said, "and if he did that, he could put away the whole thing then."