Less than five months from today, South Carolina may host the first debate of the 2008 presidential cycle, said Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin.

Erwin said the debate — which would feature Democratic candidates — would be tied to the April 27 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner and the state party convention the next day. He said he's begun informal talks with television networks that might be interested in carrying the debate nine months before South Carolina's first-in-the-South presidential primary on Jan. 29, 2008.

South Carolina Republicans have already announced that they've set May 15 for a GOP candidates' debate.

The date under discussion for a Democratic debate makes sense because "if you're a serious candidate for president, you're going to want to be in South Carolina that weekend for our convention," Erwin said. "If you don't want to come participate in our event that weekend, it hurts your chances to secure the Democratic nomination."

Meanwhile, the potential front-runner in the Democratic race, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, has begun making calls to potential presidential supporters in South Carolina, Erwin said.

Clinton is calling "people just as a sounding board if she decides to run about what are important things for her to consider in campaigning in South Carolina," Erwin said.

Other prospective candidates are further along in building and courting support, the party chairman said.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has "been calling and wishing them happy birthday and just letting them know he'd appreciate being able to talk to them regularly," Erwin said. And Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., "is in regular contact with a ton of folks," including county Democratic Party chairmen, he said.