New Hampshire Republican leaders call on Nevada to move back its caucuses

New Hampshire Republican leaders are increasing the pressure on Nevada to move back the date of its caucuses and on the Republican presidential candidates to boycott those caucuses if Nevada doesn’t listen.

Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, Representative Charles Bass and Representative Frank Guinta released a joint statement today expressing concern about “the adverse impact’’ that the current front loading of nominating contests will have on the New Hampshire primary.

“Iowa and New Hampshire have long held the lead-off contests, and Nevada must now push back its caucuses to preserve that proven, time-honored tradition,’’ the members of Congress wrote. “We call on the Republican candidates to suspend campaign activities in Nevada until officials there move back their caucuses.’’

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So far, candidates Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have promised to boycott the Nevada caucuses, after Nevada officials moved their nominating contest to Jan. 14, potentially forcing the New Hampshire primary into December. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Ron Paul have not agreed to the boycott.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that discussions are ongoing in Nevada about whether to move the date, possibly to Feb. 4. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has asked Nevada to move its date to Jan. 17 or later. Then New Hampshire could vote Jan. 10, complying with a state law requiring the primary to be one week before any similar contest.

At this morning’s press conference in Concord, New Hampshire, Republican leaders pushed all GOP candidates to join the boycott.

“We believe it is the responsibility of every Granite Stater to step up now and take action to protect our primary,’’ said Jennifer Horn, a former congressional nominee and founder of the We The People advocacy group. “It’s bigger than any one candidate, than any one campaign or any one political primary.’’

Horn noted that the New Hampshire primary propelled 2008 Republican nominee John McCain to the nomination, and hosted the 1980 debate where Ronald Reagan famously stated, “I’m paying for this microphone!’’

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“I’d ask all the candidates to stand with New Hampshire and demonstrate their commitment to the process by boycotting the Nevada caucus,’’ Horn said.

Others at the press conference praised New Hampshire’s primary as a forum where candidates must talk to voters face-to-face. New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon said that state boasts high voter turnout, and citizens take their responsibilities seriously.

“The first in the nation primary is deeply rooted in New Hampshire tradition, as fundamental to the Granite State as maple syrup, covered bridges and town hall meeting,’’ said Greg Moore, an advisor speaking on behalf of New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien.

Andrew Hemingway, a leader in the New Hampshire Tea Party, specifically criticized Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who owns a summer home in New Hampshire, for not agreeing to boycott the Nevada caucuses.

Earlier this month, former Nevada Governor Robert List told The Las Vegas Review-Journal that the Romney campaign pushed Nevada to move its caucuses from February to January, so Romney could benefit from momentum he expects to get by winning the New Hampshire primary.

“With that political gamesmanship, he puts at stake over 100 years of history in New Hampshire,’’ Hemingway said.

The Romney campaign has not confirmed or denied the allegations, saying only that Romney supports New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Yesterday, New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald said he would remain neutral on the boycott.

But today, he released a statement saying that he is talking to national party leaders daily to resolve the issue. MacDonald did not explicitly support the boycott, but thanked the candidates “who have indicated that they will support our law,’’ as well as O’Brien and Bragdon, who have led the calls for the boycott.

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“I continue to remain hopeful that Nevada will move its primary 72 hours to show respect for our law, just as New Hampshire has respected the fact that Nevada, as a newcomer to this process, has a role to play,’’ MacDonald said.

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