Democrats set '08 calendar

The Nation Votes 2006


CHICAGO -- Less than three months before the midterm congressional elections, members of the Democratic National Committee approved a new 2008 presidential nominating calendar yesterday and left Chicago vowing to win back control of Congress this fall.

In the first major restructuring of the presidential nominating process in a generation, the DNC agreed to insert Nevada between Iowa and New Hampshire at the start of the nominating season, closely followed by a South Carolina primary.

The changes are meant to give African-Americans and Hispanics a bigger voice in the selection of the Democratic nominee, while also better reflecting the importance of the South and West in the Electoral College.

Although some DNC members, especially those from New Hampshire, strongly opposed the change, the dispute was the only major public glimpse of party infighting at a two-day meeting that ended yesterday. With polls showing positive trends for Democrats, the session was filled with optimism - something party Chairman Howard Dean cautioned against.

"We're not used to being in this position in the last couple years," Dean told party members. "Don't get giddy. Don't get optimistic."

Instead, Dean encouraged hard work and door-to-door mobilization, as Democrats seek a net gain of 15 seats to take control of the 435-member House. Six are needed to win control of the 100-member Senate.

Whether all states - and candidates - will follow a new calendar that reduces the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire remains to be seen.

"I do not think this plan will give us the White House back in 2008," said Kathy Sullivan, leader of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "By compressing Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina into 15 days ... our candidates will not face the test of speaking to average voters about the issues that will matter in November 2008."

After the vote, Sullivan said the committee "did a great disservice to our candidates, our party's grass roots and Democrats across the nation today by pushing through a front-loaded calendar."

New Hampshire election officials have threatened to hold a primary in late 2007 if candidates aggressively campaign in Nevada, threatening the influence of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

In case that state - or some other - decides to ignore the new calendar and leapfrog ahead, the DNC also passed a new rule yesterday that will deny national convention delegates to a presidential candidate who campaigns in the offending state.

The new schedule is expected to begin with the Iowa caucuses Jan. 14, 2008, followed by Nevada's caucuses Jan. 19, New Hampshire's primary Jan. 22 and South Carolina's primary a week later. After Feb. 5, other states would be allowed to weigh in.

John McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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