States Causing Chaos in Presidential Nomination Process

By Katherine Poythress | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - The fiercest battle surrounding the 2008 presidential election may not be taking place among the many candidates campaigning for the White House, but rather among the states vying to be the first in the nation to hold a presidential primary.

Florida's decision 10 days ago to break ranks with a Democratic National Committee (DNC) schedule of early contests and slate its own primary for Jan. 29 now threatens a chain reaction that could prompt other states, including Iowa and New Hampshire to switch their dates.

A DNC commission scheduled the Iowa Caucuses for Jan. 14, the Nevada Caucuses for Jan. 19, the New Hampshire Primary for Jan. 22 and the South Carolina Primary for Jan. 29.

Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally been the two opening contests, but in moving the Nevada Caucuses to Jan. 19, "the DNC was trying to diversify the early nominating process," said Kirsten Searer, deputy executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party.

"Nevada has a 30 percent minority population, which is much larger than the other early primary states or other early nominating states."

The DNC panel warned that there would be heavy penalties imposed on delegates from states that did not follow the schedule and on the candidates who campaigned in offending states.

But Florida ignored those warnings when Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill on May 21, moving the state's primary date to Jan. 29, a full week earlier than the DNC's Feb. 5 date of open scheduling for all other states. More than 15 states have scheduled their presidential contests for Feb. 5.

Harry Levine, co-founder of the VictoryNH campaign to keep the New Hampshire Primary as first in the nation, told Cybercast News Service, "The campaign has started earlier than it ever has before. And there's a chance it will be over, in terms of the primaries, earlier than it ever has before depending on what happens on Feb. 5."

Jason Moon, a spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP), said that if the Florida Democratic Party participates in the Florida State Primary, it would trigger a pledge the MDP made to retaliate against states that do not follow the official DNC calendar.

Moon said the MDP "will move our caucus to an earlier date, and that date will be on or before the date of the offending state."

"The DNC scheduling rules were put in place to promote diversity and a better representation," Moon said. "We believe states should honor those reforms."

DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said the committee is currently working with the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) to explore alternatives that would preserve the approved calendar. Miranda said the FDP does not necessarily have to nominate its delegates during its state primary.

State law forces New Hampshire to hold its joint Republican and Democratic primary "seven days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election," and Iowa law states that the state caucuses must be held at least eight days prior to any other state primary.

If Michigan moved its Democratic primary to precede Florida's primaries on Jan. 29, New Hampshire would be forced to slate theirs earlier than the DNC's scheduled Jan. 22. This would in turn force Iowa's caucuses to move up from their already determined Jan. 14 date.

The Iowa Republican Party would proceed to hold its caucus jointly with the Democratic one, and New Hampshire would keep its tradition of holding both party primaries simultaneously. In Florida, the Republicans intend to hold their primary on the Jan. 29 date set by the state legislature.

The Michigan Republican Party (MRP) plans to stick to its resolution to hold the Republican primary "Feb. 5 or earlier" and is currently discussing the possibility of a joint primary with the state Democratic Party, said Nichole Kaminski, communications assistant for the MRP.

With Florida setting the example by breaking out of the window for open primaries, and Michigan pledged to follow, any state could be next.

Levine said that the chaos caused by states as they continue to unilaterally inch their ways up on the calendar is proving confusing not just for candidates as they attempt to schedule their campaigns, but for networks as they try to set up debates. It is also causing a unique problem for New Hampshire.

"Secretary [Bill] Gardner has not set the date of the New Hampshire primary, and the reason is to comply with our state law" Levine said. "He has to wait for all the other states to act before he can set the date."

And Gardner has waited it out before, Levine said.

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