Democrats Tweak the Primary Calendar

By Chris Cillizza and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, July 23, 2006; A04

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.

My Fellow Bloggers

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's background as a physician has been a core part of his political image, from the day he helped treat Capitol Police officers wounded by gunshots to his diagnosis from afar of Terri Schiavo.

Last week, the Tennessee Republican went live with, a Web site and blog on health issues. The site's launch coincided with the Senate's passage and President Bush's veto of a bill supported by Frist that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The site is run through the senator's Volunteer Political Action Committee and has featured about a dozen posts already.

"We built this website to provide an interactive forum for the discussion of the medical challenges facing America in the twenty-first century. We hope you use this forum to discuss . . . these moral, ethical, political and scientific issues," Frist said in his initial posting.

Frist will be joined on the site by about a dozen other health-care professionals, though his current fellow bloggers are posting with anonymous aliases -- and sometimes with surprising bluntness for a site run by a politician.

"With the Senate heading into stemapalooza -- the real question for me is why [President Bush] keeps banging on the veto drum. His first veto now seems so transparently base-focused," says a posting by "Double Helix."

Frist is retiring from the Senate at the end of this session and weighing a 2008 presidential bid.

Uncorking the Cash

Former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker has upped the ante in the key Republican Senate primary in Tennessee, recently writing himself checks for a total of $1.7 million.

That move, about which he notified the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, as required by law, allows his competitors, former representatives Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary, to raise substantially more in campaign contributions -- roughly $12,600 per person.

The winner of the Aug. 3 GOP primary race will take on Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D) to fill the seat Frist is vacating this year. The Senate seat is central to Democratic hopes of control of the Senate in November.

Corker has led the fundraising chase throughout the contest and used his overflowing campaign war chest on several months of ads that boosted him from last to first in polling.

Both Bryant and Hilleary have attacked Corker's conservative bona fides. The former mayor said his personal donation was aimed at countering "the negative tactics of others in this race."

Cillizza is a staff writer for The Fix, his online political column, appears daily at

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