Shortly before Thanksgiving, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner did the expected: he set the date for the New Hampshire Primary to be January 8, 2008. And the big winner with that decision: The Iowa Caucuses.
Gardner, to his credit, felt that he was hamstrung by the NH statute that required the primary to be set at least seven days before any 'similar' event -- in this case, the Michigan primary, scheduled for January 15th. While most Democrats (all except Hillary and Mike Gravel) have eschewed the Michigan contest (to support to the DNC-mandated protection of the 'early' states), the Republicans expect to have a full-throated contest, which forced Gardner's hand.
While everyone has been focusing on the scant five-day period between Iowa and New Hampshire, it also matters which five days. Iowa itself is just two days after New Year's Day; and occurs on a Thursday. Coverage of Iowa will dominate the Friday (1/4) papers and broadcasts, and the "winners"(*) will also get the benefit of an additional day of bounce because Saturday (1/5) is a traditionally slow-news-day.
The battle to be on the Sunday (1/6) talk shows will pit Democrat against Republican, especially among those top-tier candidates who did not perform well in Iowa, and who need a New Hampshire bounce to stop the bleeding. Monday's (1/7) coverage will be about the
various candidates racing around the state, followed by 'soft' news stories about the early voting at Hart's Location and Dixville Notch.
The bottom line is that whomever "wins"(*) Iowa will have a huge leg up on New Hampshire, and that the cycle of press coverage is likely to make a double-winner -- like John Kerry did in 2004.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the US Capitol, Senator Lamar Alexander shakes his head and thinks of what might have been in 1996, a primary that was held on February 20th. (Alexander finished a strong third in Iowa, behind Senator Bob Dole and TV commentator Pat Buchanan; Buchanan then won New Hampshire, but Dole held off Alexander by a mere 6,000 votes, meaning that Dole became the 'insider' hope to prevent a Buchanan nomination.)
(*) - "win" means to perform above press expectations, and/or win outright.