Iowa and New Hampshire have long held an enviable role in winnowing down the field of presidential contenders with their early primaries. Now, there is unprecedented jockeying among other states to move up their primary elections. If this keeps up, primary elections in Iowa and New Hampshire could occur shortly after New Year's Day, which means political candidates may end up competing with Santa Claus for the nation's attention.

One by one, states are attempting to move up their primary elections with the intent of influencing the eventual nominees for president and bringing greater attention to issues that affect their state or region. That is particularly true in the mountain West, which largely has been neglected by recent presidential campaigns. The exceptions are Arizona and Colorado, which have grown to the point that shrewd candidates know better than to ignore them.

On the other hand, the rest of the states in the mountain West are what they are, small Western states. Once primary elections become so compressed on the calendar, candidates will go where their campaign funds buy them the best outcomes — populous states with big media markets. Small states like Utah may still be ignored under this scenario.

Aside from selfish interests, what's the point of pushing up the primary election calendar? Campaigns will be forced to expend so much of their resources from the get-go that not much will be left for the latter stages of the campaign. There also is the potential for the field of candidates to be reduced to the point where party conventions will be meaningless.

That's unfortunate, considering that this year, the Republican and Democratic campaigns are true horse races. This could have been the election season when the eventual nominees weren't a foregone conclusion early in the race. If states keep pushing up their primary election dates, the candidates could be selected before Easter. Then what are they supposed to do?

Worse, how would such an arrangement reverse voter apathy? Why would voters in states with the later primary elections even bother to show up to vote? After all, some pundits say a compressed calendar would primarily benefit the front runners.

The respective political parties need to rein in state political machinery so the party conventions are somewhat meaningful and voters feel they have had some hand in selecting the eventual nominees.

Even with all this political gamesmanship, it would appear that Iowa and New Hampshire will still conduct their elections first. But they'll feel pressure to do it as soon as possible in 2008 as never before.