Iowa Governor: 2007 Too Early for Vote

"This is a 2008 presidential selection process. It should start in 2008," said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver. He said Iowa and New Hampshire officials are in talks about the nominating calendar. (By Charlie Neibergall -- Associated Press)
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007

DES MOINES, Aug. 10 -- Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) sought to restore order to an increasingly chaotic presidential nominating calendar Friday, saying he will fight to preserve the first-in-the-nation status of his state's caucuses but will not allow them to be held in December.

Culver's assurances came a day after South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson announced that his party will hold its primary on Jan. 19, a move that is likely to prompt Iowa, New Hampshire and possibly other states to schedule their contests even earlier.

"The bottom line is Iowa will have the first caucus in the nation and we're going in January," Culver said during an interview in his office. "There's only so far that I think people are willing to be flexible. This is a 2008 presidential selection process. It should start in 2008, and I expect that it will."

The first-term governor's decision helped short-circuit speculation about the possibility of a December start to the nomination process, while leaving open questions about the timing of the earliest primaries and caucuses and possible sanctions by the national party committees for states that violate their rules.

Even if Iowa holds its caucuses in January, the 2008 calendar will be the earliest and most heavily front-loaded in the history of presidential politics. At this point at least five states are scheduled to hold contests in January, and many more will follow on Feb. 5 -- what will be the biggest single primary day ever in terms of delegates awarded.

After the South Carolina announcement on Thursday, politicians here in Iowa openly speculated that the state's precinct caucuses could be held on Dec. 10 or Dec. 17 to preserve their traditional status as the kickoff to the nominating process.

Culver moved quickly to take those options off the table and said his state will work with New Hampshire as well as state and national parties to resolve the uncertainty about the calendar. But he said he had concluded that it "makes no sense" to allow the first voting of the 2008 campaign to begin before this year's holiday season -- either from the standpoint of Iowa voters or for the good of the overall process.

The governor also said he hoped to put a few days between the Christmas-New Year's Day holiday week and the caucuses. Other Iowans said that could mean caucuses on Jan. 5, a Saturday rather than their traditional Monday.

Still, the nominating calendar remains in flux. South Carolina Republicans shifted their primary from Feb. 2 to Jan. 19 to preserve that state's tradition of holding the first GOP primary in the South, a status threatened by Florida's earlier decision to set its primary on Jan. 29.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler said she has no plans to move her party's primary. The Democratic National Committee has threatened to penalize any states that move their contests earlier than currently authorized. Florida faces such sanctions, which include the threat of not having its delegation seated at the national nominating convention.

Many see New Hampshire as holding the key to the future. Secretary of State Bill Gardner has sole power in the state to establish the dates for the Democratic and Republican primaries, and he is a fierce defender of a tradition that has seen Iowa hold the first caucuses and the Granite State conduct the first primary.

New Hampshire law requires the state to set its primary at least seven days before a similar contest elsewhere. Given South Carolina's move, that would mean Jan. 12 -- a Saturday -- at the latest.

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