WASHINGTON – New Hampshire Democrats are fighting efforts by some in their party to insert presidential caucuses between Iowa and their own state's leadoff primary.
Some members of a Democratic commission studying how to achieve more geographic and ethnic diversity are suggesting informally that the party should place two to four caucuses between Iowa's leadoff caucuses and New Hampshire.
"Instead of focusing on electing a president in 2008, this commission appears to be heading down a precipitous path," Kathleen Sullivan, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Wednesday. "If you have all theses caucuses front-loaded, Democrats will end up with a nominee by the middle of January."
She said New Hampshire Democrats will be talking to commissioners about their concerns that such a change will damage Democrats' chances to win the presidency in 2008. If that fails, she said, "We will do whatever we can to make sure the Democratic Party has an expansive, sensible nominating process."
By state law, New Hampshire must hold its primary seven days before any similar nominating event. Caucuses wouldn't necessarily violate that law, but Secretary of State William Gardner said if additional events are put in front of New Hampshire, "I would have to consider taking some action on setting the date."
The commission has limited options for achieving its goal of more geographic and ethnic diversity. It could move Iowa and New Hampshire earlier and put additional primaries or caucuses after those two opening events. Iowa and New Hampshire are predominantly white.
"We have consensus on a couple of major points," said Rep. David Price of North Carolina, a co-chairman of the commission. "One is the value of early retail contests in Iowa and New Hampshire and secondly, there needs to be a more diverse set of early contests. We're trying to give appropriate weight to both premises."
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, whose protests in 2004 led to the formation of the commission, said it's essential to have additional contests in that early period before New Hampshire. The additional events would likely be in small states from different regions with large black or Hispanic populations in the South and the West.
"What I'm looking for is a change in the system that gives two states such a huge impact on who is nominated," Levin said in an interview.
He said adding early events "actually would open things up. More candidates would have an opportunity to win at least one caucus."
The commission is to make its final recommendation to the Democratic National Committee on Dec. 10.