D.C. Democratic Party officials charged with setting a date for a presidential primary or caucus in 2004 have instead opted for three: Jan. 13, Feb. 10 and March 6. Or some combination of them all.
The compromise plan does not back the strict position taken by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and D.C. Council members, who came together in a rare show of unanimity to schedule the city's presidential primary for Jan. 13, ahead of every state.
It also puts off a final decision on the contentious matter until November, giving the local party more time to mediate the battle over the primary date, which has pitted D.C. officials against the Democratic National Committee. National leaders, who are demanding a delegate-selection plan by May 2, have threatened to strip the city of 30 of its 38 delegates if it has a binding primary in January.
"This plan gives us flexibility and time," said Donald Dinan, head of the D.C. party's delegate selection committee, which voted unanimously for the plan Monday night. "In politics, things happen."
The plan sets a primary date of Feb. 10, the same day as Maryland and Virginia, with a caucus March 6. The primary results would determine how many delegates are awarded to each presidential candidate, and the caucus would determine who those delegates are. But the party left open the possibility of a Jan. 13 primary if city officials continue to insist on it.
Under a law signed by Williams on Monday, the primary will be Jan. 13. If it happens that day, party officials will regard the primary as a "beauty contest" -- meaning it will amount to nothing more than an unscientific poll. The caucus, still on March 6, would become the sole event for determining who goes to the convention and how those delegates are split among the presidential candidates.
In one final scenario, national party leaders could back down and agree to authorize the Jan. 13 primary, allowing it to be the main event in determining how the city's delegates to the convention are divvied up. The March 6 caucus would still select the actual delegates, but the primary would have determined how many go to each presidential candidate.
Norman C. Neverson, chairman of the D.C. Democrats, said, "It's our only option to leave all options open."
The full D.C. Democratic Party plans to meet May 1 to consider the plan. It voted narrowly in February not to endorse the D.C. Council effort to move up the primary date.
Neverson predicted that the compromise plan would pass, but only after a spirited floor fight among the committee's 72 members. He also said the party could amend its plan until Nov. 1.
The push for an early primary date grew from a group of activists trying to publicize the city's lack of voting representation in Congress.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a leader in the drive for an early primary, said he would have preferred more decisive action by D.C. party officials and plans to continue his fight to have the primary Jan. 13.
"I wish they had done this, but profiles in courage this state committee is not," Evans said. "They're happy to go to the party. . . . I'd like for them to be as strong as the council has been."
Williams's spokesman, Tony Bullock, said of the mayor: "He has been unequivocal and unwavering in his support for this initiative. We want the primary to be held on January 13. . . . We have a point to make, and we're making it."
If the council were persuaded to go with a later date, members would have to pass a new law.
D.C. Republican officials, meanwhile, are planning to have only a caucus to pick delegates to the GOP national convention.