Iowa Republicans set Jan. 3 for presidential vote

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DES MOINES, Iowa Oct 17 (Reuters) Iowa Republicans voted to move forward the date of their presidential caucuses, traditionally the crucial first vote of the nomination campaign, to January 3, 2008.

The vote by the state party's central committee was unanimous and officials said the date was likely to be final, ending months of uncertainty about when the campaign will begin in earnest.

''It is set in stone and moving into December was not an option,'' said party executive director Chuck Laudner. ''There's a conflict on just about every night of the week, but this one seemed best.'' This would be the earliest ever presidential nominating vote, coming the same week as the traditionally highly popular college football bowl games when many voters are not usually thinking about politics.

Iowa Republicans felt compelled to advance the date to fend off other states like Michigan seeking to challenge their lead-off status.

Iowa Democrats have traditionally held their precinct caucuses -- essentially neighborhood meetings for party members -- on the same night as Republicans. But Democratic leaders in Iowa have yet to decide whether to move the date of theirparty's Caucuses, currently scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008.

In response to the Republican decision yesterday, Iowa Democrats issued a statement saying the party would ''decide our caucus date based ultimately on what is best for the people of Iowa and the Democratic Party.'' Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been leading the Republican field in Iowa, while national front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has not campaigned much in the state and appears to be building his campaign strategy around winning the New Hampshire primary.

In the past, the New Hampshire vote was usually held around a week after the Iowa caucuses but many expect it to be held this time as early as Jan. 8.

REUTERS RN AS0911

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