While several Republican presidential candidates are opposing Nevada moving its caucus up on the political calendar to challenge New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status, one -- former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman -- has taken things a step further. Huntsman announced Friday he will skip Tuesday's planned debate in Nevada, opting instead to conduct a town hall meeting in Hopkinton.
"I believe if you're gonna boycott Nevada for trying to pull a fast one, then you need to do more than just offer words, lip service," Huntsman said by phone Friday afternoon. "I've asked several other candidates to follow suit, but no one has yet to my knowledge."
Nevada is targeting a caucus date of Jan. 14, but Granite Staters want the date pushed back in order to allow New Hampshire to go with its primary on Jan 10.
On Friday, Herman Cain joined Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in boycotting the caucus, but Hunstman is the first one to boycott the debate as well.
"We decided to do things the right way and that's cancel our participation in the debate," Huntsman said. "I firmly believe we need to do all we can to preserve a process that's very unique in this country. New Hampshire plays that role better than anyone else.
"Some of the other candidates have (rebuffed Nevada) in words," he continued, "I'm hoping they'll join me in doing so in deeds."
Secretary of State Bill Gardner is doing all he can to preserve the first-in-the-nation status.
"While New Hampshire has had a presidential primary since 1916, and has been first since 1920, it wasn't until 1975 that our status was put into state law," Gardner said Wednesday. "The law now requires that our primary is seven days or more before similar elections that would challenge our traditional position.
"What that law requires is that I look at the nominating events of other states where presidential candidates run, and then set our primary a week ahead of them. Since New Hampshire citizens pay for our primary, we can hold it whenever we wish.
"It is up to the candidates themselves to decide whether to campaign here. Ours is the first event where voters go into the privacy of the voting booth to make a choice for a candidate on the ballot. It tells the nation something about their support."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Charles Bass and Rep. Frank Guinta released the following statement regarding the New Hampshire primary:
"We are firmly committed to protecting New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status, and we appreciate the efforts of those campaigns that want to protect our primary. Granite State voters have a long history of picking presidents, which is a powerful incentive for campaigns to focus their efforts here. Candidates must earn the votes of New Hampshire citizens, who will take into consideration how much time the contenders spend in the state. Those who have tried to diminish the role of our primary in the past have seen their candidacies founder.
"Bill Gardner has worked for decades to preserve New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status, and we support his efforts to protect our primary."