Dems Likely To Jumble Primary Calendar

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CBS
Democrats are on track to jumble the states in the presidential primary calendar in response to growing criticism that the same predominantly white states hold many of the cards in early voting.

And not even complaints from a former president and a half-dozen White House hopefuls can stop them.

Iowa would still go first in the new calendar, but a Western state, possibly Nevada or Arizona, would be wedged in before the New Hampshire primary. A Southern state, possibly Alabama or South Carolina, would follow New Hampshire.

The national Democrats' rules and bylaws committee expects to vote on the proposal this weekend.

Critical Democratic constituencies such as blacks and Hispanics have clamored for a major role in early primary voting, arguing that Iowa and New Hampshire are hardly reflective of a diverse electorate.

Iowa's white population is 95 percent, New Hampshire's is 96.2 percent, according to the latest Census numbers.

"I was surprised by how deeply Hispanics and blacks feel they are not part of the process," said Harold Ickes, a veteran Democratic activist and member of the rules committee. "I think it's a done deal."

Hispanics comprise more than 20 percent of the population in Nevada and Arizona. In Alabama and South Carolina, blacks make up nearly 30 percent, based on the latest Census numbers.

"The momentum for this change has been building for many, many years," said Donna Brazile, a party activist, member of the rules committee and a black.

Still, the potential loss of pre-eminence for New Hampshire, a state that demands retail politicking skills of its candidates, has upset the state Democratic leaders and stirred resistance among some familiar names.

Former President Clinton said last month that he opposes the addition of a caucus between Iowa and New Hampshire because he "worries about the continued compressing of the calendar robbing the candidates of the opportunity to do what they have to do."

Clinton said his wife, White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., "has exactly the same feeling I do."

Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana said Democrats should keep the primary calendar as is, a view echoed by Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Joe Biden of Delaware, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Their complaints may have come too late.

"This process has been going on for more than two years," said commission co-chair Jim Roosevelt, arguing that doubts about the additional contests are a recent phenomenon.

Members of the Democratic committee plan to choose one state to hold a caucus between Iowa and New Hampshire and one state to hold a primary after New Hampshire. The Democratic National Committee will vote on the recommendation later this year.

Ten states plus the District of Columbia have applied: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The Union Leader reports that a push is on in D.C. to award the district the slot between Iowa and New Hampshire. Seth Tenner, co-founder of DC Democracy, told the New Hampshire newspaper that D.C. "would give the DNC what it is looking for in term of diversity with its large African-American population and Latino population, and the ability for a candidate to do retail politicking."

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner is watching closely to determine whether the Democrats' actions comply with state law requiring that the primary be scheduled a week or more before any "similar election."

Blacks and Hispanics are core constituencies for the Democrats. Blacks made up 21 percent of the vote for Kerry in 2004 and chose him over President Bush by a 9-to-1 margin, according to exit polls.

Hispanics made up 9 percent of Kerry's support and more than half of that group supported the Democratic candidate. Republicans have been gaining ground, however, securing the support of roughly four in 10 Hispanic voters in 2004.

The Democrat most responsible for pushing the changes is determined that Democrats move ahead with the changes.

"New Hampshire seems to think they have a God-given right to have the lion's share of attention from the presidential candidates," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. "There's such a broad consensus in the party, I don't foresee us backing off."

Former DNC Chairman Don Fowler has his doubts about additional contests.

"If we put two more in there," Fowler said, "we're going to have the nominee before other states have a chance to participate."