Dems plan revamp of primary calendar

Come 2008, Democrats don’t want their presidential candidates spending the entire month of January in high boots and barn jackets.

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday is expected to add Nevada and South Carolina to the early presidential voting states, a detour into gambling glitz and Southern gentility from the traditional cold winds and snow of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The change is designed to address a nagging problem for Democrats: How to give a greater voice in selecting a presidential nominee to minorities who are among the party’s most loyal supporters.

Nevada has a sizable Latino population; South Carolina has a high concentration of black voters. What’s more, by campaigning in both states, Democrats would have a greater presence in the Southeast and the Southwest — regions that tend to support Republicans.

Advocates of the plan say it will force Democratic presidential candidates to develop a broader message that doesn’t simply address the concerns of Iowa or New Hampshire voters.

“I’ve got some different issues in the South than they have in New Hampshire,” said Everett Ward, a DNC rules committee member from North Carolina. “I want the presidential candidates to address those issues.”

But the altered schedule poses risks, as well. Some states, New Hampshire in particular, are threatening to ignore the party lineup.

The plan would keep Iowa’s caucuses in their leadoff position Jan. 14. Nevada would follow with its own caucus Jan. 19. New Hampshire would retain its status as the first-in-the-nation primary, with voting Jan. 22. South Carolina would hold its primary Jan. 29.

Eager to keep states from jumping in line, DNC members are also expected to pass enforcement rules that would punish candidates who campaign in states that ignore the party and set their own schedule. Some party members worry that would create an unseemly intraparty fight when Democrats can least afford it.

Under the proposed rules, candidates who venture into states that ignore party rules would not get any delegates from those contests. But even DNC members were unsure how effective such a sanction would be, particularly if the states doing the leapfrogging are small and have few delegates to offer.

Others complain that the added contests in Nevada and South Carolina so front-load the nomination process that the party’s nominee could be determined by the beginning of February, before most states even get a chance to vote.

“You’re ceding authority to those four states,” said Kathleen Sullivan, the chairman of the Democratic Party in New Hampshire and a member of the DNC’s rules committee.

Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, said the proposed schedule would make Iowa’s influence even more disproportionate.

“If there was a big stretch between the caucuses and New Hampshire, you have time to recover from a stumble and, if you do well, you have time to show some real weaknesses further down the road,” he said.

The January staccato of cross-country votes, however, creates a “crazed intensity,” he said.

“The Democrats keep thinking that their problem is procedural,” Goldford said. “You don’t hear Republicans saying they have to rejigger the schedule.”

Still, the Democratic Party is made up of a multitude of interest groups — based on ethnicity, ideology, sexual orientation and more that create palpable internal tensions.

Donna Brazile, a DNC member from Washington and Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000, confronted party activist Harold Ickes, a close ally of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an exchange over how to better include the party’s many factions in party affairs.

At issue were rule changes that distinguished between the discrimination that has faced blacks, Hispanics, women and other racial minorities and the under-representation in the party by gays, lesbians and people with disabilities.

In questioning the need for new rules, Ickes made reference to early American history, when only landowners could cast votes.

Brazile passionately objected, accusing Ickes of forgetting that while some Americans could not vote because they owned no property, black Americans were considered property themselves.

Ickes later apologized privately to Brazile.

The episode illustrated the underlying effort behind the new presidential nominations schedule — giving the party’s various factions more of a voice.

Brazile said elections in Nevada and South Carolina will be “proxies for all the other people in the South, the West, the Midwest who are not being talked to.”

The message to candidates, she said, is, “If you can’t come and see us next spring, don’t come next fall.”


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