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Three Months And Counting

The window for Chris Christie to climb through just got even narrower (and no, that's not a catty reference -- I'm not joining this debate just yet.) The South Carolina Republican Party announced today that, in reaction to Florida moving its primary to Jan. 31, the state would hold its primary on Saturday, Jan. 21. This means that the nominating calendar is going to be pushed back even earlier than many were predicting after Florida's move. New Hamphire requires that its primary be at least seven days earlier than any other primary -- an edict apparently handed down by the Old Man on the Mountain sometime long before his face fell off -- which means it will in all likelihood shift to Tuesday, Jan. 10 (unless New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner decides to go even earlier, on the logic that the Nevada caucuses or any other caucuses scheduled for the week before South Carolina violate New Hampshire's one-week window rule.) If New Hampshire goes on Jan. 10th, that means the Iowa caucuses will be on Jan. 2 or 3 -- that is, when the recycling trucks in Iowa are still picking up the New Year's Eve empties.

And this means that we are almost certainly now under three months to the first nominating contest, a daunting countdown for Christie. Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, told me it was hard to imagine how Christie could build up an organization that fast in New Hampshire, a state he would presumably want to compete seriously in as a moderate Northeasterner. For one thing, a growing swath of the state's GOP establishment is lining up behind Mitt Romney, who has a commanding lead in recent state polls. "I don’t see the logic for [Christie] to run other than to position himself for something else," Smith said.  "He doesn’t have the money, the name recognition or any organization on the ground here. I don't see how he could pull that off here, in a field that seems to be all the more settled."

If there is anyone who still had a shot at a late entry to challenge Romney in New Hamshire, Smith said, it was Rudy Giuliani, if only because he had some organization left from his ill-fated 2008 campaign in the state and had far more name recognition than Christie. I told Smith I was surprised at his low estimation of Christie's name recognition in the Granite State, given all the recent media hype about his possible candidacy. "That's national stuff. No one watches that here," said Smith. "You're in Washington. This is New Hampshire."