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Obama Team Seeks Changes in Primaries

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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign will call next week for the creation of a commission to revise the rules for selecting a presidential nominee in 2012, with a goal of reducing the power of superdelegates, whose role became a major point of contention during the long battle for the Democratic nomination between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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The commission also will be urged to redraw the nominating calendar for 2012 to avoid starting the primaries and caucuses so early, and also to look specifically at ensuring more uniform rules and standards for those caucuses.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the campaign will ask delegates at the national convention in Denver to approve a resolution approving the establishment of a 35-member Democratic Change Commission. The charter would authorize the Democratic National Committee chairman to appoint the commission soon after the election and ask it to report back by January 2010.

The proposed changes grew out of discussions between Obama's campaign, officials at the Democratic National Committee and representatives from Clinton's campaign, Plouffe said.

The most important change involves superdelegates -- the elected officials and party leaders who have automatic seats at national conventions and are free to vote for any candidate of their choice.

Their role became hugely controversial during the long battle between Obama and Clinton. Obama supporters feared that the superdelegates could override the results of the primaries and caucuses and hand Clinton the nomination.

"The number of superdelegates has gotten too large in relation to overall delegates," Plouffe said. "We want to give more control back to the voters. . . . Everyone thinks there ought to be more weight given to the results of the elections."

The commission will be encouraged to consider either reducing the number of superdelegates eligible to attend the national conventions or increasing the number of pledged delegates -- those elected on the basis of caucus and primary results.

The other significant change is the call to redraw the primary and caucus calendar. The 2008 calendar received significant criticism both for the early starting dates for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary and also because so many states were crowded into the first month of what turned out to be a five-month battle.

Under the system envisioned by the Obama and Clinton campaigns, most contests could not be held before March, except for those in a handful of states authorized to go earlier -- presumably in February rather than January.

Plouffe also said the commission will be urged to look for ways to avoid the bunching of states on particular days. Almost two dozen states held Democratic contests on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, and party officials hope to avoid a repeat in 2012.

The other major area the commission will be asked to examine is the operation of caucuses in states that choose that process rather than a primary. The caucuses drew criticism, particularly from the Clinton campaign, which said that they restricted participation and that in some states they lacked the necessary infrastructure to ensure fairness.

"We agree that we ought to make sure they're funded properly, staffed properly and run smoothly, and even see if people ought to be eligible to vote absentee," Plouffe said.


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