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N.H., Iowa could have company on caucus calendar

Democrats expected to OK changes to nominating process

By Mark Preston
Sen. John Kerry celebrates on stage after winning the New Hampshire primary in 2004.


New Hampshire
South Carolina

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nevada and South Carolina will likely join Iowa and New Hampshire as kickoff states for the Democratic presidential nominating process in 2008 after a panel voted to recommend the measure to the party's national committee Saturday.

The full Democratic National Committee is expected to approve it when it meets next month in Chicago, Illinois.

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee chose Nevada and South Carolina over eight other states and the District of Columbia, which petitioned the DNC for an early position on the presidential primary and caucus calendar.

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi and West Virginia were also vying for early slots.

If the measure is approved, Democrats will schedule four nominating contests before February 5, 2008, forcing the party's presidential hopefuls to expand their campaign efforts beyond the Hawkeye and Granite states.

The goal is to increase diversity in the nominating process, according to the DNC.

The Republican Party is not planning to alter its 2008 presidential primary calendar.

The Nevada caucus would fall between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, and South Carolina would hold a primary one week after the Granite State contest.

Some Democrats say the move would encourage candidates to devote too many resources at the beginning of the nomination process, and could lead to an all-but-official nominee by the first week in February.

"We may now have a nominee by the time the window opens," said Harold Ickes, a DNC member from the District of Columbia.

Choosing the nominee so early would preclude other states from taking part in the process, which could result in Republicans getting more media coverage later on because GOP contenders will still be battling it out, critics say.

Supporters contend a change is necessary to bring diversity into the selection process.

South Carolina's black population is about 29 percent, and Nevada's Hispanic's population is about 23 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nevada also has a heavy union population, 14 percent, a key constituency for the Democrats.

"This is a net plus for democracy, but it is also a net plus for the Democratic Party which is trying to rebuild from the bottom up and also trying to include more voices in the process of who selects our nominee," said Donna Brazile, a DNC Rules Committee member from the District of Columbia, who also serves as a CNN political commentator. She also was former Vice President Al Gore's campaign manager in the 2000 presidential race.

The new structure could dilute the influence New Hampshire wields in choosing the Democratic presidential nominee. It affects Iowa less because the Iowa caucus remains the first contest on the nominating calendar.

New Hampshire officials have led opposition to the plan, fearing that it will marginalize the state's role of holding the "First-in-the-Nation Primary."

New Hampshire law says that the state's primary must be set at least a week before a similar contest anywhere else, and New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner has vowed to enforce state law. Gardner is expected to set the date for the primary in fall 2007.

Should New Hampshire choose not to abide by the new DNC calendar, the national committee could refuse to seat New Hampshire delegates at the 2008 Democratic Convention.

But Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and a member of the DNC's rules panel, said New Hampshire Democrats will not be intimidated.

"Somebody who was a delegate in 2004 said to me: If he was elected as a delegate in 2008 and the DNC refused to seat him, he would still go down, and he said, 'I guess I would sit on the steps of the convention hall,' " Sullivan said.

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