National Parties Uneasy as States Rush Primaries

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 5, 2007

Leaders in the Republican and Democratic parties are struggling to contain a national calendar revolt by their state affiliates that threatens to shift the 2008 presidential nominating contest into the closing months of 2007.

And by all indications, they are losing.

On Thursday, the state of Florida voted to move its primary to Jan. 29, ahead of all but three states, in a move designed to make the Sunshine State's 18 million residents more relevant. This follows a flood of activity by 23 states, including California and New York, that moved their contests up to Feb. 5, creating what is being dubbed "Tsunami Tuesday" when more than 65 million Americans could cast primary ballots.

It's not likely to stop there. Florida's move seems likely to spark further action by the states voting on Feb. 5. And it's all but certain to cause political leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire -- who guard their front-of-the-process status jealously -- to move their voting up even further. William M. Gardner, New Hampshire's secretary of state, said yesterday that moving its primary to December is "not beyond the realm of possibility."

The national parties have threatened to retaliate by penalizing their state chapters and, in the case of the Democrats, any candidate who dares to set foot in those states to campaign this year. Some state delegations could find themselves arriving at the 2008 national conventions with no official standing.

"The parties have lost control of the calendar" said John Weaver, the chief strategist for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "And not necessarily to the benefit of the American people."

"It's going to change everything," predicted Charles R. Black Jr., a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "Just as you were about to the point where the calendar was going to shake down and be predictable, this means South Carolina will move up. That probably means New Hampshire moves up. And then Iowa moves up."

"There's no way to end it this time," he added.

Officials at the Republican National Committee -- chaired by Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.) -- said they will not confront the issue directly until after a Sept. 4 deadline for states to inform the national party of their decisions. But spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt warned flatly that "any state that holds it primary or caucus [before Feb. 5 or after July 28] will be penalized."

Democratic National Committee officials also reiterated their hard-line stance against unauthorized calendar moves. But a spokeswoman also said there might be room for a negotiated compromise with Florida.

"This is not the first time that a state legislature has set its primary on a date outside DNC party rules and, as with similar situations in the past, the DNC is working closely with the state party to look at the alternatives for proceeding in accordance with the rules" that require that all but the four early states hold their primaries on or after Feb. 5, said Stacie Paxton, the DNC press secretary.

That could take the form, for example, of a nonbinding primary to be held before February and a caucus conducted after Feb. 5 whose winner would be awarded the delegates, she said.

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