10 Weeks To Manchester

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner made it official this morning, setting the state's Presidential primary for January 10. That's one week after the Iowa caucuses, and will be followed by South Carolina on Jan. 21, then Florida, Nevada, and the rest of the pack.

The final shakeout of the scheduling dance is, in my opinion, to reinforce what I've said all along: Iowa's religious conservatives will be a huge key to the GOP nomination.

That's because if those religious conservatives coalesce around a candidate (other than Romney) who is acceptable to the Republican Party establishment, that candidate will most likely do well in New Hampshire and win South Carolina and Florida -- meaning that Romney will have won just one of the first four high-profile contests, with that being discounted because of his home-field-advantage in New Hampshire (assuming he hangs on to win there). It'll be effectively over and done.

That scenario presumably at this point means Rick Perry.

It's quite possible, in today's GOP, that even an establishment-unacceptable candidate, like Herman Cain, could springboard from an Iowa win to a Southern-state sweep, but I feel pretty confident the party would ultimately be able to stop such a candidate from getting the nod. Which is why I counseled Romney earlier this year to help nudge a wingnut candidate to victory in Iowa.

The other scenario is for the religious-right vote to split among several candidates, rather than coalescing around one. That appears fairly likely at the moment. That probably means a clear path to the nomination for Romney.

But if Perry wins Iowa, I don't see how anything stops him from sweeping the South, and I don't see how he fails to win the nomination in that scenario.

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