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Democrats May Shift Nevada, S.C. Primaries

July 23, 2006|Judy Pasternak | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Democrats should add Nevada and South Carolina to their early primary schedule to pick a 2008 presidential nominee, a party committee decided Saturday.

The decision, signaling a push to contest Republicans in newly developing battlegrounds in the West and South, must be ratified by the full Democratic National Committee to take effect. That committee meets Aug. 19 in Chicago.

The changes are meant to add ethnic and regional diversity to a candidate-selection process that has long been dominated by the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are more than 90% white. The new calendar would jam four contests into a 15-day span in January, affecting fundraising, travel and the dynamics of the race.

Iowa's caucus would remain the first test of the Democratic primary campaign, to be held Jan. 14, 2008, followed by a Nevada caucus five days later. New Hampshire would continue to hold the first Democratic primary election, on Jan. 22, with South Carolina's nominating election coming seven days later.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 26, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Presidential elections: An article in Sunday's Section A about a Democratic panel's recommendation to add Nevada and South Carolina to the party's early 2008 presidential nominating schedule referred to "razor-thin" Republican margins of presidential victory in both states in 2000 and 2004. George W. Bush won South Carolina handily in both years.

All other states could schedule their nominating processes for after Feb. 5.

The new calendar is aimed as much at the general election as at the primaries. Democrats are hoping they can generate excitement and test campaign messages that will reverse the razor-thin margins that Republicans won in Nevada and South Carolina in the last two elections, as well as affect neighboring states.

"What we did today was to create a process that means a candidate will not be going just to the traditional states, but going to states where they'll talk about problems that are more representative of our great country," said Donna Brazile, a member of the calendar-setting committee who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000.

A Nevada caucus, for example, "helps all Western states," said Rebecca Lambe, a senior advisor to the Nevada Democratic Party. "The issues will be Western issues. It's water. It's immigration reform. It's land use."

Still, there were signs that some potential candidates were not pleased. Harold M. Ickes, a committee member with close ties to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), objected to South Carolina's inclusion because it borders the home state of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Edwards, the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, has been traveling the early campaign circuit with an eye toward 2008.

At least six possible contestants for the Democratic nomination -- including Clinton -- have already been to South Carolina, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said. The state's Democratic Party chairman, Joe Erwin, called Ickes' concerns about an Edwards edge "hogwash," and added, "South Carolina will represent a great opportunity for someone who wins in Iowa, Nevada or New Hampshire."

If the new calendar is adopted, moving more states to earlier spots in the voting process, candidates will face pressure to raise more money faster, to organize on more fronts and to schedule more visits to more states.

As the committee voted, there were predictions that the front-loading could produce a nominee by early February, leaving voters in many states with no meaningful role in the process.

Critics said that the turbo-charged process could prove fatal for candidates who stumbled, and that it would provide little room for "voters' remorse."

"I think there will be a lot of people who wake up on Feb. 5 and say, 'The Democrats have a nominee, and I never got to vote.' They created it to give more people a say in the process, but more people will feel they've had no say," said Kathleen Sullivan, who heads the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

New Hampshire may be heading for a confrontation over its assigned date because a law there requires the secretary of state to schedule the primary at least a week before any "similar election." The new calendar puts New Hampshire three days after Nevada's caucus.

Complaints also came from Midwestern industrial states that played crucial roles in the last two presidential elections.

"I think we could be making a big mistake," said committee member Mark Brewer of Michigan. "Look at all the electoral votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri. We can't afford to have a nominee who's untested in those states."

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