Plan to coordinate New England Democratic primary dates moves slowly

At one point it seemed that New England would be the first region to hold all its state Democratic presidential primaries in the same week, if not on the same day.

Prospects seemed bright for creating essentially a regional primary, as the six states selected delegates to the party's 1984 National Convention. The move would allow candidates to make the best use of campaign money and travel time, it was argued. And it might give the region, which will have only 7 percent of the nearly 4,000 seats at the San Francisco convention, a greater impact in selection of the party's next standard bearer.

In practice, proponents have not been able to pull off the plan. Critics of the idea warn that it would tend to divert attention from smaller states and concentrate attention on the one with the most delegates to be chosen - in this case, Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, the states are inching in the direction of a regional primary day, as several eye early March dates for picking their delegates.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island, for example, are expected to hold their preference primaries on March 13, one week after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation poll, and nine days after Maine Democrats hope to hold their local caucuses.

This, coupled with the closely watched New Hampshire primary scheduled for March 6 and the nonbinding preference vote in Vermont, is bound to keep much of the early campaign focus on the region.

To what extent the coordination of the region's state primaries takes shape hinges on approval of plans submitted by the various state Democratic committees to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Particularly important is acceptance of the Maine proposal, embracing city and town caucuses on March 4, nine days earlier than is permitted under party rules that forbid selection of delegates before March 13. The exceptions are the New Hampshire primary one week earlier and the Iowa local caucuses 10 days before then.

Maine Democrats, in requesting a waiver so that their local caucuses can be held on March 4, two days before the presidential preference vote in the neighboring Granite State, contend they have precedence going for them. In 1980, Democratic state caucuses there were held the weekend before the New Hampshire primary. Action on the Maine waiver request is expected in mid-June.

While there is little doubt approval will be given for Massachusetts to have its primary on March 13, less certain are other features of the plan, just submitted, which involves choosing 48 of the 116 delegates later on.

If approved, 68 seats would be apportioned to various presidential candidates on the basis of their strength in the March preference vote. The remaining delegates would be chosen by the Democratic State Committee and through caucuses at the party's endorsement convention June 9 and 10.

Connecticut, where earlier this spring there had been some interest in joining Massachusetts and Rhode Island in a March 13 primary, now has settled on March 27, the same date as in neighboring New York.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island lawmakers have moved that state's vote from the first Tuesday in June to March 13.

Although Vermont Democrats won't decide until mid-April how many delegates various presidential contenders will get, the state's traditional nonbinding presidential preference primary will come March 6. That is the same day as the binding New Hampshire preference primary.

Ranking behind Massachusetts with its 116 Democratic convention delegates are Connecticut with 60, Maine and Rhode Island with 27 each, New Hampshire with 22, and Vermont with 17.

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