WASHINGTON – Democrats have settled on a fast-moving presidential primary calendar (search) led by Iowa and New Hampshire - followed by a February flood of contests likely to winnow the crowded field of candidates quickly.
The District of Columbia (search) managed to slip a Jan. 13 presidential primary in front of Iowa's caucuses, but it's not recognized by the Democratic National Committee (search). The nonbinding contest will allow district Democrats to promote their push for voting rights in Congress, while the district's delegates will be formally chosen in mid-February caucuses.
The DNC's rules panel heard from a handful of remaining states Thursday about their plans and found no states making any plans to change the dates of their contests.
"All of the states have given us their dates," said Carole Khare, co-chair of the DNC's rules panel. "That calendar is set, it's just not going to change."
Democrats don't expect any changes, though they acknowledge the possibility a state could run into unforeseen circumstances requiring a change.
Iowa's caucuses Jan. 19 are the first contest recognized by the DNC, followed by the New Hampshire primary, "tentatively" set for Jan. 27.
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner is expected to announce his state's primary date formally sometime this fall, but he closely guards the timing of that announcement.
"To maintain the air of uncertainty helps keep other states at bay," said David Scanlan, New Hampshire's deputy secretary of state.
Seven states hold contests a week after New Hampshire on Feb. 3 - Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
"With every region represented during the February sweepstakes, our nominee will be selected by the end of the month," said Donna Brazile (search), a veteran Democratic strategist. Other Democrats predict the race will be over by early to mid March.
Contests in Michigan and Washington state follow on Feb. 7 and by the end of the month, 19 states and the District of Columbia will have voted.
States holding early contests have already gotten political benefits from the increased attention.
"It's already paid off in Michigan," said Michigan party chairman Mark Brewer. "We've had candidates in the state every week - we've gotten far more attention than we've ever gotten."
Any suspense about the nomination left at the beginning of March could be removed by March 2, when 11 states including California and New York hold contests.
While the campaign against President Bush is certain to be difficult for the Democrats, Bush's increased vulnerability in the polls is making them eager to get started.
"We're going to get a nominee very early," said Jim Pederson, Arizona Democratic chairman. "The party has a message, but what we need is a messenger, and we won't have that until we get a nominee."