Panel Offers "Incremental" Changes to '08 Democratic Calendar
The Democratic Party's Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling convened this morning in Washington, D.C., to issue their final recommendations on changing the 2008 presidential primary calendar and, in the process, managed to narrowly dodge a last-minute attempt to abolish the first-to-vote status of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The panel, composed of politicians, political science professors and political operatives, spent the morning debating and amending their recommendations, which would simultaneously reaffirm the first-in-the-nation privileges of the Iowa caucuses while adding one or two caucuses before the New Hampshire primary, which, technically would also preserve that state's first-in-the-nation primary status. The panel also proposed adding an additional one or two primaries after the New Hampshire vote but before any other states would allowed to schedule contests.
"We wanted to change the status quo," explained commission co-chairman David Price, a congressman from North Carolina. "We want a sequence of singular early contests that will expose the candidates to a broad diversity of the electorate." Nevertheless, Price conceded that the recommendations amounted to an "incremental change" in the Democratic primary process.
A proposal by Democratic National Committee at-large member Maria Echaveste to eliminate the first-in-line status of Iowa and New Hampshire threatened the commission's overall proposal and prompted a lively debate that provided a rare moment of on-the-fly politicking by the panel members.
Minority members of the commission, led by Echaveste and Donna Brazile, joined with southern (Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln) and midwestern (Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and Debbie Dingell) members to back the proposal. The opposition was led by Democratic consultant Steve Murphy and former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Jerry Crawford, who said such a radical change proposed with little advance notice would invalidate the delicate balance put forth by the commission. They said the proposal would produce unintended consequences, such as discouraging candidates from campaigning in any small states. The Echaveste measure failed on an 18-9 vote though not before several minutes of genuine uncertainty among the commissioners.
Before the vote on the Echaveste proposal, former top Clinton White House adviser Harold Ickes offered an amendment to move the Iowa caucuses up to Jan. 7 -- a week earlier than what was specified in the recommendations forwarded by the commission. Ickes proposed the change in order to avoid violating statutes in Iowa and New Hampshire that mandate that no state be allowed to vote within a week of their contests. It failed by a 17-7 vote.
The flare-ups exposed the simmering tensions between several of the commission members.
Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D), whose protests in 2004 led to the commission's creation, said he thought the recommendations did not go far enough to add diversity -- geographic and racial -- to the primary process. He called the blueprint a "barely a crack in that wall that Iowa and New Hampshire have surrounded themselves [with]."
On the other side, former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) voiced her opposition to the plan, which, she argued, left unresolved both how many states would be included in the early voting process and what "sequence" in which those state would vote.
In the end, the commission managed to protect Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus but left New Hampshire Democrats unhappy along with Democrats who wanted a wider variety of early contests.
The commission's recommendations will be forwarded to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which must vote to affirm or reject them. DNC Chairman Howard Dean will have the final say over the adoption of the changes.
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