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Democrats Tweak the Primary Calendar

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By Chris Cillizza and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, July 23, 2006

There were lots of complaints among Democrats about the lack of racial and geographic diversity in the party's presidential nominating calendar. Yesterday, the party made big changes for 2008, adding two states to the crucial early days of the process.

Nevada will be placed in between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. South Carolina will come after New Hampshire but before Feb. 5, when any state can schedule a vote.

The new calendar was approved by the Rules and Bylaws Committee -- an arm of the Democratic National Committee -- after several hours of debate among the 30 members of the group.

"Today we begin the initial steps of electing a Democratic president," said Alexis Herman, secretary of labor during the Clinton administration and a co-chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

The choices of Nevada and South Carolina came after months of lobbying by the 11 states (as well as the District of Columbia) that applied to the committee to be considered for early voting status.

Even at the vote, held at a hotel in downtown Washington, the ear-bending continued. Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House, sat quietly in the back of the room while South Carolina's Democratic Party chairman, Joe Erwin, paced nervously throughout the morning.

Nevada had long been considered the front-runner for the caucus slot, because it carried the strong backing of Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) as well as the majority of the organized labor movement -- one of the party's most influential voting blocs. Reid spent Friday working the phones and meeting in person with members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

South Carolina, too, had been the favorite to secure the post-New Hampshire primary spot thanks to its successful handling of the 2004 Democratic presidential primary as well as its substantial black population, one of the main criteria given by the committee in its consideration.

Harold Ickes -- a committee member and confidante of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), a potential 2008 candidate -- spoke in opposition to a Palmetto State primary out of concern that it would be a walkover for former senator John Edwards (N.C.) should he choose to run.

Several committee members -- including former DNC chairman and South Carolina native Don Fowler -- rejected that logic, noting that a number of potential candidates have already begun campaigning in the state.

It remains unclear whether New Hampshire will abide by the committee's decision. Under state law, no similar contest can be placed within seven days of the Granite State primary -- a near-certainty given the constraints of the new nominating calendar.

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