Democratic National Committee's Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling
Primarily due to the prodding of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who was troubled by the privileged position of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential nominating process, the Democratic National Committee following the 2004 campaign, formed a Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling to examine its process.  As a result of this Commission's work and the deliberations of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, the full DNC at its August 2006 meeting approved addition of an early caucus in Nevada and an early primary in South Carolina for 2008.  From beginning to end of these deliberations, New Hampshire political leaders waged a spirited effort to protect the first in the nation primary.
  Dec. 10, 2004 announcement
    March 12, 2005 - Meeting 1 - History, Goals and Challenges
    May 14, 2005 - Meeting 2 - Presentation of Various Calendar Proposals
    July 16, 2005 - Special Call Meeting - Constituency Presentations
    Oct. 1, 2005 - Meeting 3 - Discussion & Debate of Proposals
    Dec. 10, 2005 - Meeting 4 - Commission Recommendations and Report

Co-chaired by former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman and Congressman David Price (D-NC), the 40-member Commission held a total of five meetings, the first of which was on March 12, 2005.  During its October 1 meeting the Commission narrowed its focus to the "pre-window" period, which is the time before party rules allow states to begin their delegate selection processes (Iowa and New Hampshire excepted) and inside the window, when the rest of the states hold their contests and where frontloading is a serious concern.  In particular the Commission sought to increase diversity in the early phase of the selection process, while respecting the value and tradition of the Iowa and New Hampshire retail contests.

At its final meeting, the Commission approved a set of recommendations for 2008 which Commission Co-Chair David Price described as "modest," "incremental," "workable" and "neither radical nor trivial."  [remarks]  Specifically, for the pre-window period (i.e. before February 5, 2008), the Commission recommended that the first caucus continue to be held in Iowa and the first primary be held in New Hampshire, but that one or two first-tier caucuses be added between Iowa and New Hampshire and one or two primaries be added between New Hampshire and the opening of the window.  Thus for the Democrats there will be at least a couple of additional early contests before February 5, very likely a Western state with a significant Hispanic population and a Southern state with a significant African American population.  The Commission further recommended that no contests occur before January 14, 2008.  Details of the specific states to be added and where they will fit in are to be determined by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee.  It will be a challenge to squeeze all in between January 14 and February 5, but Price believes there is enough "running room."  Throughout the Commission's existence, New Hampshire Democratic leaders were extremely protective of their first-in-the-nation status, which is enshrined in state law; they were not happy with the Commission's recommendations, and may well take their case to the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full DNC, but it is not likely they will be able to forestall the proposed changes.

To address frontloading during the window (i.e. February 5 to June 10, 2008), the Commission recommended an incentive scheme involving bonus delegates to encourage states to hold their primaries and caucuses later in the process.  The Republicans tried this in 2000, awarding a 5 and 10 percent increase in delegates to later states, but that effort did not meet with much success.  The Democrats' plan calls for awarding of larger numbers of bonus delegates, from 15 to 20, 30, and 40 percent more delegates for each of four stages: March 4-March 17, March 18-April 7, April 8-April 28, and April 29-June 10.

Considering the Commission's Recommendations
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee took up the Commission's recommendations at its March 11, 2006 meeting and over the next four months-plus developed its recommendations to the full DNC that Nevada be added as an early caucus state after the Iowa caucuses and that South Carolina be added after the New Hampshire primary as an early primary state:

March 11, 2006 - Rules and Bylaws Committee meets in Washington, DC.  In a March 13 letter to state party chairs the Committee invites states to apply as pre-window states.  The letter emphasizes racial and ethnic diversity; regional and geographic diversity; and economic diversity, including union density. Alabama, Arizona [PDF], Arkansas, Colorado [PDF], Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, West Virginia and the District of Columbia applied by the April 14 deadline. 

April 20, 2006 - Rules and Bylaws Committee meets during the party's 2006 Spring Meeting in New Orleans and hears leading Democrats from these states make their pitches to go early (Nebraska submitted an application but did not make a presentation and Hawaii also made a brief presentation). 

May 18, 2006 - Rules and Bylaws Committee convenes in a telephone conference call and compares the prospective states. 

June 22, 2006 - Rules and Bylaws Committee convenes again via conference call, and in a voice vote decided to recommend addition of one caucus between Iowa and New Hampshire and one primary between New Hampshire and the start of the window. 

July 22-23, 2006 - Rules and Bylaws Committee holds an in-person meeting in Washington, DC, and votes on Nevada as the early caucus state and South Carolina as the early primary state.  The Committee also votes on January 14, 2008 at the opening date of the pre-window period. 

August 19, 2006 - The full DNC, meeting in Chicago, approves the Rules and Bylaws Committee's recommendations.

After these lengthy deliberations that ran through to the vote by the full DNC on August 19, 2006 at its summer meeting, Democrats decided to add Nevada and South Carolina to the pre-window period. Democrats plan to start with the Iowa caucuses on January 14, followed by caucuses in Nevada on January 19, the New Hampshire primary on January 22 and the South Carolina primary on January 29, followed by the February 5 opening of the window.

One can only speculate as to how this will all play out, however.  New Hampshire political leaders mounted a spirited defense of the state's first-in-the-nation status throughout the meetings of the Commission and subsequent meetings of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, and they are continuing to state that they will take all necessary measures to protect the primary.  As a result Democrats could face a chaotic situation.  In a July 20, 2006 letter to members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch warned, "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 of New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, "You should assume that he will move up New Hampshire’s primary date, perhaps even ahead of Iowa, if he determines it is necessary to uphold New Hampshire law."  Gardner will set the date of New Hampshire's primary in the latter part of 2007.  Ultimately a situation could arise where the DNC does not recognize New Hampshire's delegates (sanctions).

Following the Commission's recommendations, Democrats worked on a modest bonus delegate system as an incentive to encourage states to go later in the process.  The Rules and Bylaws Committee came up with such a proposal which was to be included in the Call to the Convention.  However at its summer meeting in August 2006 the full DNC referred the matter back to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

A number of leading observers were quite critical of the Democrats' changes.  In an August 16 column in The Hill R. Lawrence Butler, an assistant professor of political science at Rowan University, wrote, "The commission's purpose was not to create a better presidential nomination process; it was an exercise in coalition management."  The Washington Post's David Broder penned an August 31, 2006 column headlined "The Democrats' Dysfunctional Calendar."  With four early contests jammed into 15 days, there could well be unintended consequences.  Recall that in the 2004 cycle then DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe worked the schedule to make it likely that there would not be a drawn out, bruising contest for the party's nomination.  The nominee would be chosen relatively early and would be ready to take on President Bush, according to the theory.  However the resulting seven- to eight-month general election campaign may not have been to the Democrats' benefit.
Copyright © 2005, 2006  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action