The Nevada caucuses are set for Jan. 14, and Iowa has tentatively picked Jan. 3 for its leadoff caucuses. Given a New Hampshire state law requiring the primary to be held at least seven days before any similar contest, New Hampshire could vote no later than Jan. 7, but Gardner said he is unwilling to stick his state between Iowa and Nevada if those contests remain so close together.
"We cannot allow the political process to squeeze us into a date that wedges us by just a few days between two major caucus states," he said in a statement. "Our primary will have little meaning if states crowd into holding their events just hours after our polls have closed."
Unlike other states in which political parties run the primaries and caucuses, New Hampshire taxpayers pay for the primary, and Gardner has the sole authority to set the date. During the last presidential campaign, Gardner waited until Nov. 21 to set the Jan. 8 date, the earliest date ever.
On Wednesday, he said logistics are in place to have the primary either Dec. 6 or Dec. 13 if necessary.
"Candidates have been campaigning here and elsewhere for months, and it is about time we begin the next stage of the presidential nominating process," he said.
Gardner and other defenders of New Hampshire say the country - and the candidates - are well-served because the primary requires close contact with voters, not just name-recognition or advertising cash. Gardner also insists that New Hampshire has a uniquely probing and democratic political culture, of which the primary, dating to 1916, is part.
"Right now, the problem is the date of Nevada. We will respond as we need to in order to honor New Hampshire's tradition and to keep our primary relevant," he said. "Not to so would allow us to lose an important element of American democracy forever. New Hampshire will not let that happen."