Dem Panel Proposes Changes to Primary Calendar

Democrats trying to change their presidential primaries for 2008 agreed Saturday to recommend that at least two other states join Iowa and New Hampshire in voting during the opening days of the nominating campaign.

That expansion, debated before a commission considering changes in the primary calendar, is intended to provide more racial and geographic diversity to an opening process now dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire. Those states, representing about 1.5 percent of the country's population, have residents who are mostly white.

The additional states, expected to be named later, were likely to include a smaller state from the South and a smaller state from the Southwest or West.

"We have decided to add at least two and perhaps as many as four contests in addition to Iowa and New Hampshire," said Rep. David Price (search) of North Carolina, a co-chair of the commission. The exact order of the early contests was not specified "but there's a lot of sentiment on the commission to honor the role that Iowa and New Hampshire have played," Price said.

Democrats agreed that it is critical that the early part of the voting be dominated by the personal, door-to-door politics that allows candidates to compete without a huge amount of money.

However, Democratic consultant Steve Murphy warned that it is critical they make no changes that help Republicans. Murphy and Iowa Democratic activist Jerry Crawford said Democrats should avoid changing the leadoff roles of Iowa and New Hampshire, which could anger voters in those states and make GOP victories there very likely in the general election. Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (search) said she was pleased to see the two states included in the early states.

While Democrats agreed on expanding the early voting, sharp differences emerged on bigger questions, like slowing the pace of the primary calendar from early February on and ensuring a permanent place for Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the process.

"I do not think we should make the assumption that Iowa and New Hampshire should always be in the group" of states leading off the voting, said Sen. Carl Levin (search), the Michigan lawmaker whose complaints about the current calendar prompted the formation of the commission.

Debbie Dingell, another commission member from Michigan, said it was significant that the role of Iowa and New Hampshire was only affirmed for 2008. Levin and Dingell are asking potential presidential candidates to make no commitments to the states about a permanent leadoff status.

Longtime Democratic activist Harold Ickes of Washington argued that the current calendar moves too quickly. Ickes noted that Democrats worked for a faster selection process of a Democratic nominee in 2004, and by March the party had all but nominated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

"We wanted to shut down the system and get our candidate out early," Ickes said. "If ever there was a foundering ship that was it. The longer we went on, the lower we went down in the polls. If we'd had a year we'd have been down around zero."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean (search) has not offered the commission his preference for the calendar, but may do so before its last meeting in December, when final recommendations are due, said co-chair Alexis Herman.