Republican task force suggests incentives for later primaries Awarding extra delegates might avoid early end to race for nomination

July 03, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to prevent a rerun of this year's compressed GOP primary race, a Republican task force is proposing modest changes to the party's presidential nominating system.

The changes, which must be approved at the party's national convention next month in San Diego if they are to apply to the 2000 election, would offer incentives, in the form of extra convention delegates, to states that conduct primaries and caucuses later in the primary season.

Because so many states rushed to hold early primaries and caucuses this year -- 25 states voted between Feb. 12 and March 12 -- the race essentially was over before millions of Republicans in other states had "an opportunity to make an informed decision, [and] they didn't see the candidates much, if at all," Jim Nicholson, who headed the Republican task force, said at a news conference yesterday.

With the nomination "nominally clinched" in early March,

Nicholson said, voter participation fell sharply in states that held later primaries.

To avoid a similar problem in 2000, party leaders are proposing to reward states that hold primaries after March 15 by adding 10 percent to 20 percent more delegate slots to their allocation.

In Maryland, the Democrat-controlled legislature would have to approve any changes in the state's presidential primary, which has been held during the first two weeks of March in recent presidential election years.

Haley Barbour, the Republican national chairman, said party leaders don't know whether the delegate bonus would be incentive enough for states to conduct their primaries later. For a small state like Delaware, which advanced its election to the first week of the primary season this year, the bonus would mean, at most, two additional delegates.

Barbour denied that the proposals reflected any unhappiness with the primary triumph of Bob Dole, who trails President Clinton by double digits in opinion polls. Barbour noted that the task force was created in January, before the first delegates were selected.

"The process chose the strongest candidate we could have," he said. "That doesn't mean it's the best process."

Several of the candidates chasing Dole last winter have argued for changes in the calendar. They included Lamar Alexander, who recently proposed that, after Iowa and New Hampshire conduct the earliest primaries in February or March, the rest should be held on the second Tuesdays of each of the next three months.

"This would give winners a chance to capitalize on success, voters a chance to digest new faces and candidates a chance to actually meet voters," he said.

The GOP task force recommended only modest changes, Nicholson said, rejecting other proposals, including one calling for a series of regional primaries.

Tad Devine, a Democratic rules expert, was skeptical that the incentives in the Republican reform package would be enough to persuade states to give up the national media attention that early primaries often attract. "Republi- cans are probably about to learn what we have learned over the years, which is, the more you try to change the process, the less likely you'll be able to affect the outcome," he said.

Campaign reforms have so often produced unintended consequences as to make such efforts "predictably unpredictable," he said.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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