Democrats to shake up election calendar for 2008

Early states' role to be magnified

January to become key month

The Nation Votes 2006

August 19, 2006|By JOHN MCCORMICK AND JEFF ZELENY | JOHN MCCORMICK AND JEFF ZELENY,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Upending decades of tradition, Democrats are expected to approve today a presidential nominating calendar that will add further importance to states that vote early and will make January 2008 an extremely busy month for politics.

Members of the Democratic National Committee are poised to insert the Nevada caucuses between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the traditional starting points on the road to the White House. South Carolina's primary is expected to follow closely behind.

The proposal is the most significant business at the Democratic National Committee's two-day summer meeting, the largest gathering of Democrats in Chicago since the party's 1996 national convention.

The calendar change would be the first major restructuring in the presidential nominating process in a generation and is meant to boost the diversity of the voters who select the party's presidential nominee.

Yesterday, the Nevada Democratic Party handed DNC members slick magazines promoting their state's diversity, union membership and "ability to deliver electoral votes to the eventual Democratic nominee."

"It is a great opportunity for our voters to communicate with the presidential candidates at the retail level," said state Sen. Steven Horsford, a DNC member from Las Vegas. "We think it will provide an excellent opportunity for the candidates to engage a more diverse constituency."

New Hampshire Democratic Party officials are protesting the proposed change, hoping to preserve their traditional role. But they conceded that the calendar shake-up is all but certain.

"It's a real uphill battle," said Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "But it's a bad calendar. It will be bad for the process."

Forcing candidates to compete at the same time in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Sullivan said, would turn a grass-roots campaign into a television campaign.

"Candidates aren't going to have time to talk to any real voters about their concerns," she said. "A nominee will be chosen by fewer than 500,000 voters at the end of January."

The Democratic calendar would begin with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 14, 2008, followed by Nevada's caucuses on Jan. 19, New Hampshire's primary on Jan. 22 and South Carolina's primary a week later. After Feb. 5, other states would be allowed to hold primaries and caucuses.

The Republican Party will begin with Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, but other states have indicated their intention to move the dates of their caucuses and primaries closer to those two states'.

New Hampshire election officials have threatened to hold a primary in late 2007 if that state's tradition of holding the nation's earliest presidential primary is threatened.

For nearly three decades, Iowa and New Hampshire have had a disproportionate voice in choosing the nominees of both parties. Attempts by other states to break the Iowa-New Hampshire tradition have repeatedly failed.

Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, suggested that her state would be out front despite the changes. "Iowa and New Hampshire, if anything, have seen an increase in early campaigning this year," she said. "We have had an incredible number of candidates already."

To discourage states from leapfrogging ahead of others, the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee recommended yesterday a rule that would deny national convention delegates to any presidential candidate who campaigns in a state that violates the proposed calendar.

The committee also agreed to recommend to the full DNC a delegate bonus plan that would award extra convention votes to states that hold their nomination contests later in the year.

DNC member Elaine Kamarck of Massachusetts said Iowa and New Hampshire have become too powerful in the selection process and have overstepped the original intent of their early status.

"Early votes count more than later votes," she said. "We've allowed them to become both the beginning and the end."

Although a full DNC vote in favor of the calendar change is almost certain, there has been plenty of maneuvering. Sen. Evan Bayh, of Indiana has asked Indiana Democratic officials to oppose the changes in hopes that his potential presidential bid will gain favor with activists from Iowa and New Hampshire.

John McCormick and Jeff Zeleny write for the Chicago Tribune.

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