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Democrats: Your primary's not first - and we mean it!

Published August 19, 2006

CHICAGO - The Democratic Party is moving to enforce its rules in the battle between states over who goes first in the presidential primaries, taking aim at candidates in case the states themselves won't go along with the party's rejuggled 2008 schedule.

New Hampshire, with its traditional first-in-the-nation primary, says it's not going to worry about "a handful of Washington insiders."

A change recommended Friday by the party's rules and bylaws committee would deny national convention delegates to any presidential candidate who campaigns in a state that leapfrogs its primary over others.

The tough stance is part of a proposed overhaul of party rules to change the decadeslong tradition of keeping Iowa and New Hampshire at the starting gate of presidential nomination voting. The new party plan would insert Nevada between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and give South Carolina greater influence with a primary a week after New Hampshire.

On Saturday, the full Democratic National Committee will vote on the rules changes.

The change is designed to bring more Hispanic and black voters into the process earlier.

Top Democrats, however, fear that a number of states, particularly New Hampshire, will ignore the new voting lineup and choose to hold their nominating contests even earlier. Hoping to put teeth into the new schedule, rules committee members moved to sanction candidates who dare to campaign in disobedient states.

"If you campaign in a state that is outside the rules, then you're not entitled to delegates from that state," said Carol Khare Fowler, a committee member from South Carolina who offered the change.

As a reward for states that choose not to cut in line, the rules committee recommended they get bonus delegates based on when they're scheduled to hold their primaries or caucuses.

Several DNC members said Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Evan Bayh of Indiana, both of whom are weighing presidential runs, were encouraging their supporters on the DNC to vote against the rules change. But even Kathleen Sullivan, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman and a member of the rules committee, predicted the changes would pass.

The ultimate decision for New Hampshire rests with its secretary of state, William Gardner, who must decide whether the Nevada caucus violates New Hampshire state law requiring its primary to be scheduled before any other "similar election."

Sullivan said that if the state moves up its primary, candidates would probably still campaign there despite the threat.

"It doesn't mean anything because New Hampshire has too few delegates. If that means a handful of Washington insiders decide to strip us of our delegates, we don't care."

[Last modified August 19, 2006, 01:24:52]

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