Democrats to Revamp '08 Primary Calendar

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 19, 2006; 9:31 AM

CHICAGO -- 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 was 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.

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