CHICAGO—Eager to give African-Americans and Hispanics a bigger voice in picking a presidential nominee, Democrats Saturday adopted a new caucus and primary calendar that puts new states on the coveted early voting calendar.
The new calendar would add Nevada, with a large and growing Hispanic population, and South Carolina, with its large African-American population, to the two largely white states of Iowa and New Hampshire that have dominated the early voting for a generation.
Iowa would hold precinct caucuses on Jan. 14, 2008, followed by new Nevada caucuses on Saturday, Jan. 19. New Hampshire's traditional first primary would be on Tuesday, Jan. 22, and South Carolina's primary on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
All other states would be prohibited from starting their voting until a week later, on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
"If this works, the candidates will go to all the states," said Alexis Herman, the former Clinton administration Labor Secretary who chaired the party's efforts to overhaul its voting.
The plan had broad support from minorities, many of whom cheered and hugged when it was adopted. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, noted that it was backed by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
"We now have geographic diversity, which means that a lot more of the country will get a chance to meet and understand who these candidates are," added Maria Echaveste, a former top aide in the Clinton White House who supported the plan.
Yet the plan was opposed by party leaders from several states, most notably New Hampshire, which fears that the Nevada caucus just days before will dilute attention to its primary.
New Hampshire state law requires the state primary be scheduled seven days earlier than any "similar" election. While the state has recognized the earlier Iowa caucuses as different and thus okay—they are town hall meetings rather than a primary election—state officials have chafed at whether they would give Nevada's caucuses a similar pass.
New Hampshire officials could move their primary date forward to as early as December 2007. They won't decide until next year, after all other states have set their voting dates.
To prevent an earlier New Hampshire vote, the Democratic National Committee also approved new rules that would punish any presidential candidate who campaigned in a renegade state.
Yet several potential candidates already have said they would still campaign in New Hampshire, arguably more interested in winning the media coverage and momentum that comes with a victory there than they are in losing the state's 18 delegates, which could happen under the new rules.
Among the potential candidates vowing to campaign in New Hampshire: Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, and Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
"This just the first chapter," said Mark Brewer, the state party chairman from Michigan, who also opposed the plan because it failed to include any states from the industrial Midwest.
"The test is what the DNC does if New Hampshire doesn't comply. If the rules don't apply to New Hampshire, they don't apply to anybody."
For more on the Democratic National Committee, www.democrats.org.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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