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N.H. sets primary date, other states follow

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state of New Hampshire yesterday finally gave Republican presidential candidates an election calendar after months of uncertainty by scheduling its first-in-the-nation primary for Jan. 10, ending what had become a bitter standoff among rival early-voting states scrambling for influence.

New Hampshire's decision brings welcome clarity to what had been an unclear path for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The state will vote a week after the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. The traditional first states will be followed by South Carolina on Jan. 21, Florida on Jan. 31 and Nevada on Feb. 4.

Some feared that jockeying states might cram more contests into January, creating an informal national primary that would deprive second-tier candidates of opportunities to regroup and raise money as they raced from state to state. With the calendar set, campaigns can now launch strategies that had been held hostage to an uncertain calendar.

New Hampshire has been a target for critics who say it is too small and not racially diverse enough to play such a major role in picking presidents, but Secretary of State Bill Gardner and other defenders of New Hampshire say the United States -- and the candidates -- are well-served because the primary requires close contact with voters, not just name-recognition or advertising cash.

The date announced by Gardner yesterday had been widely expected since Nevada Republicans voted last month to shift their presidential caucuses to early February, instead of in mid-January -- a move that could have forced New Hampshire to vote in early December. New Hampshire state law requires the primary to be held at least seven days ahead of any other similar contest.

Already, there are signs candidates are ramping up in New Hampshire. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for example, begins airing his first television advertisements in the state yesterday.

New Hampshire has cut it closer before. During the last presidential campaign, Gardner waited until Nov. 21 to set the Jan. 8 date, the earliest date yet.

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