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First Thoughts: Calendar chaos?

Primary calendar chaos?... Although it’s still fluid, chances are that the primary season will start in January (or earlier)… And how long will it last?... A final calendar point to chew on: The post-IA/NH/SC line-up could benefit Perry, since so many of the contests take place in the South… Is Perry the new GOP front-runner?... It’s official: Perry will participate in his first debate on Sept. 7… And Cheney’s new book (and his exclusive interview with NBC News).


*** Calendar chaos? The GOP presidential field is mostly set, the future debates (including our NBC-Politico one on Sept. 7) are scheduled, and the full-fledged campaigning has already begun. The one thing we’re missing: an actual primary calendar. According to Republicans monitoring this subject, there are two different timeline scenarios. The first is the RNC-sanctioned February start date: Iowa goes Feb. 6, New Hampshire Feb. 14, Nevada, Feb. 18, South Carolina Feb. 28, and Super Tuesday is March 6. The second is the more chaotic January (or even December) start date: States like Arizona and Florida -- risking losing half their delegates and other penalties -- set their primaries early, pushing Iowa, New Hampshire, and other states into January or earlier. Which scenario is more likely? Although this remains a fluid situation, one plugged-in Republican eyeing the calendar process for one of the campaigns says there’s a “99%” chance it begins in early January instead of February. So start making your New Year’s Eve plans in Des Moines now. Or at least buy refundable air tickets.

*** So when will we know? Per NBC’s John Bailey, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) must announce the date of her state’s primary at least 150 days in advance. So if she wants to set it on Jan. 31, which seems to be the case, the announcement has to come on or before Sept. 2. Meanwhile, Florida’s committee to select a primary date has until Oct. 1 to determine a date. (Oct. 1 is the RNC’s deadline for a state changing its primary/caucus date.)


*** And how long will it last? There are also two scenarios for how long the primary season will last. One is the early knockout -- like in ‘04 -- when John Kerry essentially wrapped up the Democratic nomination after winning both Iowa and New Hampshire. And two is the long, bloody battle -- a la ’08 -- when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton duked it out until June. Given that the earlier states will award their delegates proportionally and given that the later states (like California in June) can be winner-take-all, there’s an increasingly likelihood that the GOP nomination fight won't mathematically end until May or June. That could either help the eventual nominee (Obama's long primary season helped put Indiana and North Carolina into play), or hurt him/her (with just five months to focus on the general election against a sitting president).


*** A final calendar point to chew on: You could argue that the still-fluid primary calendar might benefit Perry, if the race (as expected) turns into a Romney-vs.-Perry battle. Consider that many of the post-Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina contests will take place in the South. For instance, Super Tuesday on March 6 will feature Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. (It also features Massachusetts and Vermont.) The next week brings us primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. Then on March 24 comes Louisiana. And to see Perry's strength in the South, just look at the latest Gallup poll, which shows him leading Romney in the South, 39% to 12%. The good news for Romney: He has the money advantage (which helps in a long race) and these states will award delegates proportionally (which allows him to rack up delegates even if he loses the state). But you can see how important Florida -- whenever that primary occurs -- will be to Romney and his momentum heading into those Super Tuesday (and beyond) states.


*** Perry the new GOP front-runner? As mentioned above, a new Gallup poll shows Perry leading Romney -- not only in the South, but also nationally. In Gallup’s first national GOP trial heat since Perry officially entered the race, the Texas governor gets support from 29% of Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents, while Romney is at 17%, Paul at 13%, and Bachmann is at 10%; no other Republican presidential candidate gets more than 4%. In last month’s Gallup poll, Romney led Perry, 23%-18%. So heading into Labor Day, there’s a case to be made that Perry -- not Romney -- is now your GOP presidential front-runner. In New Hampshire yesterday, Romney was asked about the new poll position. “Look, I'm following the strategy that I've had and that we've laid out from the very beginning.  And the field is still fluid.  There are going to be potentially other candidates,” he said, per NBC’s Morgan Parmet. 

*** And he makes his first debate appearance on Sept. 7: By the way, it’s now official: The Sept. 7 NBC-Politico debate will be the first that Perry attends. Per a release, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation announced that these eight Republicans will participate in the debate: Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, Romney, and Santorum. The debate, which will be moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams and Politico’s John Harris, will take place at the Reagan Library’s Air Force One Pavilion beginning at 8:00 pm ET.

*** On the 2012 trail: Perry is in Colorado… Romney continues to campaign in New Hampshire… Gingrich and Paul are also in the Granite State… And Bachmann and Santorum stump in South Carolina.

*** Cheney speaks: The other news today is the publication of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book. In an exclusive interview with NBC’s Jamie Gangel that partially aired on “TODAY,” Cheney defended waterboarding (“I would strongly support using it again if circumstances arose where we had a high-value detainee and that was the only way we could get him to talk”), and he doesn’t believe that former President Bush will feel betrayed by the book (“I don't know why he should”). The New York Times, which got its hands on Cheney’s book, writes: “Former Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he wrote, Mr. Bush opted for a diplomatic approach after other advisers — still stinging over ‘the bad intelligence we had received about Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction’ — expressed misgivings.”

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up (with guest host Chris Cillizza): NBC’s Jamie Gangel on her interview with Cheney… GOP strategist Brian Jones and Newsweek/Daily Beast’s Lois Romano on former Gov. Jon Huntsman’s strategy against the rest of the GOP field… One of us (!!!) on Gov. Rick Perry’s poll surge and the developing GOP primary calendar… The latest news on Hurricane Irene, Libya and the resignation of Apple’s Steve Jobs… And more 2012 with Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz, the Rothenberg Report’s Nathan Gonzales and the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain, former Obama White House spokesman Bill Burton, and Financial Times’ Gillian Tett.

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 13 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 19 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 75 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 165 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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