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Primary Reform Clears GOP Hurdle

"As Edmund Burke said, when reform is necessary, it's necessary to reform," said Virginia Republican Morton Blackwell. "A national primary is not in the best interests of the country, the conservative philosophy, or the Republican Party."

At a general session of the Republican National Committee that began with a prayer for George W. Bush to win the November election, delegates voted in favor of restructuring the presidential primaries process to include more states, and to minimize the advantage to the states that vote first, and the biggest states. The vote was 92-65.

Reformers also want to minimize the role of money in determining who gets the nomination. Their man George W. Bush spent over $63 million, an historic high to secure his party's nod.

On the new calendar, known as "the Delaware Plan", the states would be divided into four voting groups, with the smallest states voting first and the largest states last. As things are now, candidates spend more time and advertising money in the states with the most delegates.

Both professional politicians and political scientists have been rubbing their heads and wringing their hands over what to do about the six-week, front-loaded system in which major parties' candidates are chosen between the February 1 New Hampshire primary and in mid-March.

This year, Al Gore and George W. Bush sewed up their parties' nominations on March 7 - "Super Tuesday" - before most states voted. One Republican committee member at the Philadelphia meeting complained that only 17 states had any role in choosing them.

The plan's author, Basil Battaglia, said that with the new calendar, all states would participate in the choice, because a candidate cannot get 50 percent of delegates before the fourth and last group of states votes.

Plan backers say it will preserve the "retail" side of politics, keeping candidates down on the ground talking to people where they live and work, not just up on the airwaves through expensive television ads.

Battaglia said that under the plan, "Candidates won't need a trillion dollars to start off."

But do we really want six months of fringe and protest candidates like Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes Â… in the name of "democracy"?

Well, yes, said Blackwell. Under today's conditions, the GOP "never would have nominated Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan."

The way things are going, he added, the candidate with the most money has "an insurmountable advantage." And the media has too much power: "With a few magazine covers and some television, they could build up a candidacy."

Next, the plan goes to a convention committee that decides whether all the delegates at next week's Republican National Convention will vote on it.

The biggest likely sticking point is the fear of doing the right thing without a similar commitment from the Democrats. If the Dems continue to pick their candidate by id-March, they'll have a couple more months to run nationally before a Republican candidate is designated.

Bush advisor and former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour said, "Any solution has to be bipartisan. We and the Democrats have to agree."

The Delaware Plan, he said, is a "sincere" but "impractical" effort to fix the system.

Barbour thinks it's wrong that a candidate could secure the nomination without being tested in a big state like New York, Pennsylvania, California, Texas or Florida.

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