Correction to This Article
An Oct. 30 article on Democrats' efforts to change their presidential primary schedule incorrectly identified Debbie Dingell as a lobbyist for General Motors Corp. She is a GM executive.

Deal Near on Democratic Presidential Schedule

By Chris Cillizza
Special to the Washington Post
Sunday, October 30, 2005

A plan to shuffle the 2008 Democratic presidential calendar -- placing several states between the traditional Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary -- is gaining momentum on a commission studying the party's nominating process.

A consensus is developing to recommend scheduling nominating contests in two or possibly three states in the days between Iowa and New Hampshire, according to some members of a Democratic National Committee panel looking at ways to revamp the nominating schedule.

"It is getting to be a done deal," said Mike Stratton, a member of the 40-person commission headed by Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) and former labor secretary Alexis Herman. The commission is to make a final recommendation to the DNC at its Dec. 10 meeting.

If such a recommendation were adopted, it likely would diminish the influence of two small states that for decades have enjoyed outsized influence in picking presidential nominees, and would cause aspiring presidential candidates to rethink their strategies about travel and spending, and potentially even their campaign messages, in pursuit of the nomination.

Some proponents of a new calendar say adding caucuses rather than primaries in states voting immediately after Iowa would be consistent with a New Hampshire state law that mandates the Granite State's primary be held at least one week before any "similar" nominating election. This would allow both Iowa and New Hampshire to claim that each preserved elements of their coveted first-in-the-nation status, while also bowing to critics who have long complained that the traditional calendar is unfair to other states.

Former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, a commission member, refused to dismiss the idea of placing caucuses before her state's primary, although she insisted no deal had been cut. "The important thing is that whatever happens complies with the requirements of the New Hampshire statute," she said.

New Hampshire loyalists regard their first-primary status as something close to a divine franchise. They say letting a small state goes first allows voters to inspect the presidential merchandise in person, gives under-funded candidates a chance to shine and filters out unimpressive candidates early in the process.

The DNC's Commission on Presidential Timing and Scheduling was inspired by a dispute in early 2003 when Michigan Democrats -- led by Sen. Carl M. Levin and Debbie Dingell, a lobbyist for General Motors Corp. and wife of Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) -- sought unsuccessfully to overthrow the privileged status of New Hampshire, saying that the state should not have sole claim to the national attention and economic advantages conferred by hosting the first primary of the presidential race. To placate this faction, then-DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe called for a comprehensive commission study of the calendar heading into the 2008 election.

Republicans face no such controversy as party officials voted at its 2004 national convention to keep Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states in the presidential nominating process.

Levin and Dingell, both of whom sit on the commission, continue to be the primary catalysts for change, people familiar with the proceedings said. "The simple reality is that if there are not states between Iowa and New Hampshire, Michigan is going to move up" its nominating contest unilaterally, said one Democrat closely familiar with the panel's internal deliberations.

People arguing for more early states make an appeal to diversity -- both geographic and racial. Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white (93 percent and 95 percent, respectively, according to the 2000 census), a fact often cited by blacks and Hispanics, who are among the most important voting blocs in the Democratic base.

"There are states across America that it would be good for our party to have early voting in," said Ed Turlington, an adviser to former North Carolina senator John Edwards's 2004 presidential bid and a commission member.

Adding a Western state with a significant Hispanic population and a Southern state with a strong black voting presence would satisfy both criteria, and may be the compromise solution forwarded by the commission.

The commission is very unlikely to name specific states in its December meeting, choosing instead to lay out criteria needed to qualify for consideration, said several Democrats close to the process.

Whatever the ultimate result, the commission will forward its recommendations about the 2008 calendar to DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who would then refer the proposal to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee.

Dean has played a low-profile role in the negotiations thus far, according to commission members, choosing to wait until the commission produces its final report.

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