Colorado’s GOP Central Committee gave final approval this weekend for its preliminary caucuses to be held on Feb. 7, 2012. Based on the current calendar approved by the national political parties, that would place the Colorado caucus one day following Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest.
In a move similar to what they did in 2008, Colorado Republicans voted Saturday to move their caucus from March 6 to Feb. 7, with hopes of providing their party members more access to the 2012 presidential candidates and a better chance of influencing the national discussion.
It remains unclear if the move, however, will result in calendar chaos because the Colorado contest is non-binding, meaning that the party does not choose candidate delegates at that time. Delegate selection takes place during a later process that is currently scheduled for April 2012. As such, the Colorado GOP, which is charged like all other states to submit its caucus plan to the Republican National Committee by Oct. 1, can move its contest without fear of official penalty from the party.
Because Colorado rules require voters to be registered with a party two months prior to the precinct caucuses in order to participate, the move could force the candidate campaigns, already stretched thin by the four early states and others threatening to jump ahead, to perform at least rudimentary grassroots activity in the state. Such a situation would especially spell trouble for candidates who are not as well financed and can’t afford to compete in the numerous states now vying for a moment in the national spotlight.
Iowa and New Hampshire remain the two early “big dogs” in the nomination process even with the Colorado move, but the way the states interpret the small phrase “similar contests” will be put to the test. Also, the decision by the Colorado GOP could be copied by other states — Louisiana, Minnesota and Maine — that also hold non-binding initial contests.
Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn told The Des Moines Register that he remains “cautiously optimistic” that Iowans will be able to avoid caucusing beside holiday presents. The four early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — have pledged to move forward as a block if other states infringe on their status as defined by both Republican and Democratic calendars.