WASHINGTON – The powerful one-two punch wielded by Iowa and New Hampshire in picking the nation's president would lose some of its clout under a recommendation made Saturday by Democrats to involve more states in the early voting.
The recommendation, motivated in part by a desire to get more minority voters involved early, would add one or two caucuses after Iowa's but before New Hampshire's leadoff primary.
The proposal, which would need to be approved by the Democratic National Committee in April, would also add primaries in one or two states after New Hampshire but before the calendar opens up on Feb. 5.
"I hope this is the beginning of the end of Iowa and New Hampshire's dominant role," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who forced the creation of the primary commission in the last presidential cycle.
The new states -- which have not been named -- would need to be ethnically diverse and from different areas of the country, like the South or Southwest.
States like South Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico or Nevada as well as other small states with diverse populations could be in the running. Both New Hampshire and Iowa are predominantly white.
New Hampshire has promised to fight the proposal and will try to rally support from grassroots Democrats and potential presidential candidates. But their efforts to derail Saturday's proposal by the Democratic commission could be tough.
Potential Democratic presidential candidates would be placed in an awkward position speaking against diversity while wooing minority voters.
John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential candidate, reacted cautiously to the proposal Saturday while at a meeting of Florida Democrats. While there needs to be diversity in the nominating calendar, he said, it's important "for Iowa and New Hampshire to maintain their status because, having lived through them, I know the importance of grass-roots campaigning that occurs in both places."
For more than three decades, presidential hopefuls have trekked to state fairs, picnics and gatherings of the party faithful in Iowa and New Hampshire — a ritual that seems built into the American political system.
New Hampshire's secretary of state, William Gardner, has said he would eventually consider whether he must move up the state's primary to comply with a New Hampshire law that requires it to be scheduled a week or more before any "similar election." Gardner said Saturday he wants to get more information on the proposal before commenting again.
In a true caucus, voters attend lengthy meetings at a certain number of specified locations; such gatherings tend to attract party activists. Primaries are more like general elections, with a much broader voting population casting ballots at many polling places.
"If New Hampshire decides to challenge the proposal, all bets are off," said Levin, who noted that Michigan may bid to hold one of the early contests.
The Democratic commission also took steps to slow down the voting in the remainder of the primary calendar, recommending incentives for states that hold primaries later in the process to allow more time for considering various candidates.
New Hampshire Democratic chair Kathy Sullivan complained the commission's recommendation Saturday will make front-loading worse.
"Front-loading the calendar with new caucuses would make the process narrower and less democratic, and it would be a huge setback to Democrats' efforts to carry Iowa and New Hampshire in the future," said Sullivan, whose state has held the nation's first primary every four years since 1920.
The proposal to make subtle changes after Iowa and before New Hampshire was almost derailed by an unsuccessful bid to make all states wait until Feb. 5 to start scheduling primaries and caucuses.
The goal of getting more minority voters involved early is likely to gain momentum.
"This was just a first step," said Spencer Overton, a black commission member. "There is more work to do."
Now the recommendation goes to the rules panel of the Democratic National Committee, which will work on details of the plan before sending it along to the full DNC for a vote by the April meeting in New Orleans.