WASHINGTON – Colorado made a last-minute push to become one of the early voting states in the presidential primaries as Democrats moved toward giving more diverse states a greater say.
Under the plan, Iowa would still go first, but a Western state — possibly Nevada or Arizona — would be wedged in before the New Hampshire primary. On Friday, the United Steel Workers and the Sierra Club endorsed Colorado for the Western state slot, while its political leaders lobbied national Democrats.
A Southern state — possibly Alabama or South Carolina — would follow New Hampshire.
The Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws panel plans to meet this weekend to decide on the primary calendar.
Critical Democratic constituencies such as blacks and Hispanics have clamored for a major role in early primary voting, arguing that Iowa and New Hampshire are hardly reflective of a diverse electorate.
Iowa's white population is 95 percent, New Hampshire's is 96.2 percent, according to the latest Census numbers.
"I was surprised by how deeply Hispanics and blacks feel they are not part of the process," said Harold Ickes, a veteran Democratic activist and member of the rules committee. "I think it's a done deal."
Hispanics comprise more than 20 percent of the population in Nevada and Arizona, and about 19 percent in Colorado. In Alabama and South Carolina, blacks make up nearly 30 percent, based on the latest Census numbers.
"The momentum for this change has been building for many, many years," said Donna Brazile, a party activist, member of the rules committee and a black.
Still, the potential loss of pre-eminence for New Hampshire — a state that demands retail politicking skills of its candidates — has upset the state Democratic leaders.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch told members of a national Democratic panel that his state will "act decisively to uphold our law and defend our primary tradition." He issued his warning in a letter to the panel on Thursday, some 48 hours before the panel meets.
"Placing another state's caucus or primary between Iowa and New Hampshire, or placing another state within a week following New Hampshire, could put New Hampshire and the DNC on a collision course, resulting in chaos for the nominating process," Lynch wrote.
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner will have to determine whether the Democrats' actions comply with state law requiring that the primary be scheduled a week or more before any "similar election."
Ten states plus the District of Columbia have applied for the openings: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Blacks and Hispanics are core constituencies for the Democrats. Blacks made up 21 percent of the vote for Kerry in 2004 and chose him over President Bush by a 9-to-1 margin, according to exit polls.
Hispanics made up 9 percent of Kerry's support and more than half of that group supported the Democratic candidate. Republicans have been gaining ground, however, securing the support of roughly four in 10 Hispanic voters in 2004.