The calendar and the candidates

Will earlier primaries and caucuses make it harder for Thompson and Gingrich to compete?

Published August 9, 2007 2:15PM (EDT)

This morning in New Hampshire, we'll learn the date of the 2008 GOP presidential primary in South Carolina and maybe the date of the New Hampshire primary, which in turn will almost certainly cause a change in the date for the Iowa caucuses.

What we don't know -- what nobody knows -- is what effect, if any, all this leap-frogging and domino dropping will have when it comes to choosing the parties' presidential nominees or, ultimately, the next president of the United States.

What we're thinking: If all the frogs jump and dominoes fall in the way they seem to be headed -- which is to say, if the 2008 Iowa caucuses end up happening in December 2007 -- then won't it be even a little harder for candidates running in the middle or the back of the pack to overcome those at the front? And won't a shortened pre-primary season -- admitting that, in this case, "shortened" is a relative word -- make it harder for fence sitters like Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich to get themselves up and running and into the race?

Thompson is having a hard enough time as it is. Although polls show him running ahead of just about everyone except Rudy Giuliani, Thompson's organization seems to be in disarray. On Wednesday, he hired his third pseudo campaign manager. This time, it's William B. Lacy, a former Bob Dole strategist Thompson credits with turning around his 1994 run for the U.S. Senate. Says Lacy: "My immediate goal is to provide stable, hands-on leadership and to retool the Thompson operation to implement a non-traditional, message-driven effort."

As for Gingrich? He trails Giuliani, Thompson and John McCain in the polls, and his recent off-message messages may not sit well with a lot of Republican primary voters. But in an appearance at the National Press Club this week, he sounded more and more like a guy planning to enter the race -- eventually. Asked whether it isn't a little late to be getting organized, Gingrich said: "I think it is proven I'm candidate material." Then he said that, for most Americans, the election season doesn't really begin until after Christmas. That was probably true on Tuesday, when Gingrich spoke. As of this morning, it may not be true anymore.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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