(Des Moines, IA) Iowa Republican Party leaders voted Saturday to change the date of the Iowa Caucuses, an opening test in the presidential campaign, to January 31, 2000, in order to remain ahead of the pack of states holding primaries and caucuses early next year.

The action is the latest in a series of calendar-board moves made by state officials around the country vying to capture the attention of campaigning candidates. South Carolina recently moved its contest from March 7 (called Super Tuesday since other major states like California will hold primaries that day) to February 19. In response, officials in the nation’s first primary state — New Hampshire — are prepared to move the New Hampshire contest to February 8.

Iowa’s Republicans had planned to hold caucuses on the previous day, February 7, so the Iowa Republican State Central Committee Saturday opted to schedule their event a week sooner.

“The 31st was picked because if you go back further into January, you start running into debates (featuring the candidates)…and obviously, we don’t want to do it on the third, which is the first weekday after the Y-2-K business, whatever that will be,” Iowa Republican Party chairman Kayne Robinson said Saturday afternoon.

Robinson said if other states continue the pressure to hold election contests earlier in the election cycle, the caucuses and primaries will begin to look “silly” in campaign year 2004 if the Iowa Caucuses are scheduled in December, 2003.

“I think at some point it starts to look ridiculous to the American people that, my goodness, the campaign is literally never going to stop and I think you’d see some fall off in interest from that,” Robinson said of the prospect.

Iowa Democrat Party chairman Rob Tully expects to move his party’s caucuses to January 31, too. Iowa Democrats have traditionally held their caucuses on the same night as Republicans, but the Democrat party’s national committee is the body that sets the dates for presidential election contests. Tully will discuss the date change at Democratic National Committee rules meetings this coming week.

Most of the presidential campaigns expected January 31 to be the date for the Iowa Caucuses, so Saturday’s action will have little effect on candidates’ plans. Just the past week, two candidates announced organizational milestones in the state of Iowa. Republican candidates Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Dole released lists of individuals who have agreed to serve as vote captains in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“Iowa has 2,142 precincts and those are all separate meetings,” said Monte Shaw, Dole’s Iowa campaign manager. “We need to have point people in all the counties who help us get point people in all the precincts so we can be a presence in the Iowa Caucuses.”