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The Boston Globe

Politics

Huntsman says he’ll boycott Nevada unless it changes date to satisfy N.H.

WASHINGTON – Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, who has increasingly staked his candidacy on New Hampshire, said this morning that he will boycott the Nevada caucuses unless the state moves its voting date out of the Granite State’s way.

He also challenged Mitt Romney to do the same.

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Nevada currently has set its date for Jan. 14, but New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner demanded yesterday that Nevada move its voting back to Jan. 17. It is all part of a quadrennial ritual where states jockey for voting positions.

“My job as NH Secretary of State is to follow our law, which mandates that I set our election 7 days or more before any event that would threaten our traditional lead-off status,” Gardner said yesterday in a three-page statement. “So if Nevada does not adjust its caucus date to a later time, I cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary.”

Gardner said Dec. 6 or Dec. 13 were “realistic options” for the New Hampshire primary, although most expect some agreement will be made. But that hasn’t stopped Huntsman – a former Utah governor – from trying to appeal to Granite Staters sense of pride over their voting spot.

“In an effort to preserve New Hampshire’s historic first-in-the-nation primary status, the Huntsman campaign will boycott the Nevada caucus as long as the state continues to jeopardize New Hampshire’s primary date,” Huntsman campaign manager Matt David said this morning in a statement. “We call on the other campaigns to join us, especially Governor Romney’s campaign given their involvement in moving Nevada’s date forward.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week that Romney’s campaign had encouraged Nevada Republicans to move the causes into January so that he could gain momentum in a state he expects to win.

Romney’s campaign declined to comment on Huntsman’s request that he join them in boycotting Nevada if they don’t change their caucus date. They pointed to a statement released last week saying “Romney is firmly committed to preserving New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.” The statement also said, however, that “Romney has consistently supported Nevada’s status as an early nominating contest that follows New Hampshire.”

Huntsman’s threat comes just days before Republicans gather in Las Vegas for the next debate, and could also damage his standing in what could become a key early-voting state. Nevada so far has not factored as highly as other states, such as New Hampshire and Iowa, but it is poised to be third in line to vote. The state also has a high Mormon population that Romney and Huntsman – both Mormons – could compete for.

An estimated 7.5 percent of the state’s residents are Mormons, and exit polls showed that they accounted for one in four Republican caucus-goers in 2008.

Huntsman has not been very active, however, in trying to build an organization in Nevada and has been far more focused on New Hampshire.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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