Democrats to Avoid Fla., Mich.
Four Early-Primary States Get Candidates to Sign Pledge

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Democratic candidates have signed a pledge that would forbid them from campaigning in states such as Michigan and Florida that have sought to move their presidential primaries into January 2008.

The move ended weeks-long jockeying over which states get to hold early primaries.

Democratic leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the four states that had been designated by the Democratic National Committee to hold early primaries, demanded in letters Friday that the candidates not participate in the early primaries of other states. The candidates either had to sign the pledge or risk annoying officials in those key states.

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, signed the pledge within hours on Friday. By yesterday, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, had joined them.

"We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process," Clinton's campaign said in a statement. "And we believe the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role."

The primary calendar remains uncertain, not only for Democrats, but also for Republicans, who have had similar problems with states trying to move up their primaries and gain influence in picking the major parties' nominees.

Originally, both parties were to vote in Iowa on Jan. 14, in Nevada on Jan. 19 and in New Hampshire on Jan. 22. Democrats in South Carolina were to vote Jan. 29 and Republicans on Feb. 2.

After Florida moved up its primary to Jan. 29 in early August, South Carolina Republicans picked Jan. 19. New Hampshire is expected to move ahead of South Carolina, and then Iowa would also pick a new date so it can stay several days before New Hampshire.

Although these states will retain their influence, how the other candidates will handle the other states is unclear. The pledge would prevent the Democratic candidates from actively campaigning in Michigan and Florida if those two states proceed with their proposed dates. On Aug. 25, the DNC told Florida that its primary would have to be held on or after Feb. 5, or it would lose its delegates to the party's convention in Denver next year. The Republican National Committee has issued similar warnings.

The Democratic candidates signed the pledge after getting caught in the middle of a dispute involving states such as Michigan that have long been frustrated by Iowa and New Hampshire's influence in the primaries.

Michigan pressed ahead last week despite the DNC's action against Florida, arguing that the state's unique issues, particularly the loss of manufacturing jobs, need to be addressed by the candidates. So on Thursday, Michigan state legislators approved a measure moving the state's primary to Jan 15. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) supports the change and pledged to sign the bill.

In a letter to the candidates, Granholm asked that they campaign in Michigan and, aware that the four early states were circulating a pledge, told the candidates not to sign the pledge. But a day later, DNC Chairman Howard Dean sent the candidates a letter asking them to respect the party's nominating calendar. Then party leaders and elected officials in the four early states sent their appeal, signed by key Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada.

Biden, Dodd and other candidates who have raised little money had nothing to lose by signing the pledge; they do not have enough cash to compete in the larger states. But Obama and Clinton, who have set up organizations in states such as California that have primaries on Feb. 5, could have afforded January contests in Michigan and Florida.

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