March 11, 2006

Key Democrats back idea of primary calendar change

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Key Democrats on Saturday favored
making their 2008 presidential nominating process more diverse
early on by adding contests between the traditional opening
states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Responding to criticism of the two states' long-standing
status as kingmakers in the process, the Democratic Party's
rules committee accepted a "framework" for allowing one or two
other states to hold a caucus between the Iowa caucus and the
New Hampshire primary.

Iowa and New Hampshire, which are predominantly white and
rural, often set up a candidate to win the nomination long
before many voters have even tuned in.

Supporters say they force contenders into the kind of
retail politics and face-to-face campaigning essential to
selecting a strong candidate.

One or two new states also would be allowed to hold
primaries immediately after New Hampshire under the proposal
agreed to in principle.

The idea is to let Iowa and New Hampshire retain their
prominence, but to broaden participation at the start of the
nominating process to states in the South and West with more
diverse populations.

States would be considered based on their racial, ethnic
and geographical diversity as well as economic factors, the
panel said.

They will be able to make presentations at an April meeting
of the Democratic National Committee in New Orleans. A final
decision on the plan is expected in June.

The panel made no decisions on which states, the number of
states or when they might hold contests.

Several members suggested they should have more discussion
before endorsing the concept.

"I'm not about waiting anymore," said Donna Brazile, one of
the party's most prominent blacks. "All the states, especially
the states that have been ignored, all the constituencies and
communities that have been ignored, have a part in this

New Hampshire has fought the proposal and the state's
Democratic Party chairwoman, Kathleen Sullivan, was the panel's
lone "no" vote.