Can parties impose order on '08 calendar?
As states seek the limelight with earlier primaries, the national parties threaten harsh penalties.
The national political parties will face a moment of truth in coming weeks: Can they impose order on a primary calendar that has states leaping over one another to host the first presidential nominating contest?Skip to next paragraph
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The Democratic National Committee took its boldest step of the year late last month, threatening to strip Florida of all its delegates to the national convention unless the state pushes back its Jan. 29 primary date.
The Republican National Committee vowed last week to dock half the delegates of any state with a GOP primary before Feb. 5, a group expected to include Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wyoming.
But party organizations in many of those states remain defiant. Some insist it's time for New Hampshire and Iowa to share the spotlight with other states, while others portray their early dates as a protest against a nominating system they see as broken.
Time to firm up the calendar is running out. State GOP parties must submit their primary plans to the national party by Sept. 4, and Florida has until late September to pick a new date or lose its delegates under the DNC sanctions.
Stacie Paxton, press secretary for the DNC, said Florida's penalty is meant in part as a lesson to other states weighing earlier primary dates, and she likened the measure to schoolyard discipline. "You can say to a child, 'You're going to receive a punishment,' " she says. "But if you don't enact the punishment, it also sends a signal to other children that they can get away with it, too."
Candidates vow to maintain discipline
The pressure on defiant states increased over the weekend, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina announcing they had signed a pledge not to campaign in any state that tries to jump ahead of the Democratic contests in New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. The "four-state pledge" had already been signed by several of the lower-tier Democratic candidates, including Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
But so far, all the tough talk isn't taking.
The Michigan legislature on Thursday moved its Republican and Democratic contests to Jan. 15. Wyoming Republicans announced last week that they were advancing their caucus-like conventions to Jan. 5, ahead of every other state.
Florida Democrats have gone on the offensive, with top leaders denouncing the national party and threatening legal action. "We cannot go along with anything but the state-run primary set for next January," Florida's 10 congressional Democrats, led by Sen. Bill Nelson, said in a statement last week. "We strongly encourage all Democrats to vote for their preferred nominee in that primary, regardless of whatever penalties the DNC might enact."
Fergus Cullen, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, says the state is willing to risk a loss of delegates to guard its traditional role in the nominating process.
"If the RNC forces New Hampshire delegates to make a choice between being a delegate to the national convention or protecting and preserving the first-in-the-nation primary, we'll choose the New Hampshire primary," he says. "We've always gone first."