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Democrats affirm Jan. 19 presidential contest

After weeks of confusion and flirting with moving the Nevada caucuses up a week, the state’s Democrats on Tuesday announced they will hold the presidential contest on Jan. 19 after all.

The decision came on the heels of South Carolina Democrats announcing they will move their primary from Jan. 29 not to Jan 19, but to Jan. 26. Fear of being overlapped by South Carolina had been the major impetus pushing Nevada earlier.

“We will join South Carolina Democrats in an effort to preserve the (Democratic National Committee’s) early primary calendar by caucusing on Jan. 19th,” state Democratic Party Chairwoman Jill Derby said in a prepared statement.

“We believe it is in the best interest of the Nevada Democratic Party and the presidential campaigns to preserve the calendar. We hope that Iowa and New Hampshire will choose to the do the same.”

Derby said she was satisfied that a Jan. 19 caucus would preserve Nevada’s importance as the first test of the candidates in the West.

The DNC last year assigned Jan. 14 to Iowa, Jan. 19 to Nevada, Jan. 22 to New Hampshire and Jan. 29 to South Carolina. Nevada was brought into the early-state mix to bring geographic and ethnic diversity to the process.

Iowa and New Hampshire, however, have yet to agree to those or any other dates. Meanwhile, other states have moved their contests to dates before Feb. 5, during the time period when a few small contests have outsized influence in the outcome of the nominations.

Florida is scheduled to hold a primary on Jan. 29, and Michigan is set for Jan. 15. But most of the Democratic candidates have taken their names off the Michigan primary ballot, rendering that contest meaningless, and moving up three days ahead of Florida allows South Carolina Democrats to still hold the first contest in the South.

South Carolina Republicans previously moved their primary to Jan. 19, another threat to Nevada. In a statement Tuesday, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler urged the state’s Republicans to “join us on Jan. 26” instead.

Nevada Republicans scheduled their caucuses for Jan. 19 in order not to cede the spotlight to the Democrats. The Republicans have said they want their event to be on the same day as the Democrats’ and were prepared to join their counterparts in a move to Jan. 12.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden said Tuesday the caucus date is an agenda item for this Saturday’s meeting of the state party’s central committee.

The Democrats’ decision to stick with Jan. 19 “would be a factor,” she said, since the Republicans hope to share many of their caucus locations with the Democrats.

The moves by Nevada and South Carolina Democrats to get the calendar finalized amounted, as Derby suggested, to a challenge to Iowa and New Hampshire, which have frustrated the campaigns and other states by failing to settle on dates.

On Tuesday, Iowa Republicans set their caucuses for Jan. 3. But campaigns worry that date will put them in competition with the holiday season, and many people might be on vacation and miss the contest.

Iowa Democrats haven’t yet picked a date. The shuffle had largely been prompted by the expectation that New Hampshire would not want to go third and that Iowa and New Hampshire would maneuver together to preserve their traditional one-two punch.

The New Hampshire secretary of state has also remained mum, suggesting the state could hold its primary as early as December.

Officials in the Granite State have warned that its contest risks being irrelevant if it is held that soon.

Nevada Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Kirsten Searer said Tuesday the party was trying to restore order.

“Our hope is to bring stability to this chaotic process,” she said. “We’re laying our marker down. Our ultimate goal is to elect a Democrat, and we think it’s only fair to give our candidates a calendar they can plan on.”

She added, “We hope Iowa and New Hampshire will agree that the calendar set out by the DNC is the best way to vet our Democratic presidential candidates and produce a nominee that will win the White House.”

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.

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