Maine Democrats have won what they wanted - the go-ahead to hold their state's political caucuses on March 4, a week earlier than national party rules permit.
The compliance review commission of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) gave them the green light Nov. 14. The decision heads off a clash between a Maine law enacted earlier this year and the party-adopted delegate-selection timetable. But there's still party schedule trouble elsewhere.
Still very much up in the air are the dates for the Iowa presidential caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Delegate-selection plans from Democratic leaders in these states were again rejected by the compliance review panel.
Party regulations restrict the delegate-selection season to a 13-week period from March 13 to June 1, except for Feb. 27 caucuses in Iowa and a March 6 New Hampshire primary. Citing state laws and political traditions, Democratic leaders in both states insist they must go a week earlier than the assigned dates.
Unless the impasse is somehow resolved in the next few weeks, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary could lose much of their potential impact. There is a lingering uncertainty about whether delegates chosen in a manner contrary to national party rules will be seated at the national convention.
This uncertainty places the Democratic presidential aspirants in a difficult position. They have already made heavy commitments in time and effort in New Hampshire and Iowa, and yet they are reluctant to buck their party's national hierarchy.
This could focus increased candidate attention on the March 4 Maine municipal caucuses.
Although these local gatherings of the party faithful will not actually pick the national convention delegates, they will choose the people who will attend a May 5-7 state convention at which the 27 Maine Democratic delegate seats are to be filled.
Democratic chieftains from Iowa and New Hampshire, having lost their final appeal with their party's compliance review panel, are turning to the DNC's executive committee to stretch the delegate-selection timetable. Toward that end , the chairmen from the two states (along with Barry Hobbins, their counterpart from Maine) met with a top aide of DNC chairman Charles Manatt last weekend.
''I am optimistic this matter will be resolved,'' says New Hampshire Democratic chairman George Bruno, explaining that he feels he and his Granite State associates are ''in the middle of a power struggle between the Republican Party and the Democratic National Committee.''
State Democrats point out that the governorship and both chambers of the New Hampshire Legislature are GOP controlled and there is no way to change state law specifying that the primary there must be at least a full week before any similar presidential vote elsewhere.
New Hampshire officials hold that because March 6 - the DNC-specified date for their state's ''first-in-the-nation'' presidential primary - is in conflict with the nonbinding so-called presidential ''beauty contest'' in neighboring Vermont, the Granite State vote must come Feb. 28, a week earlier.
Iowa law requires its caucuses be held 10 days before any other state's Democratic delegate selection.
Some Democratic activists in New Hampshire are concerned that the DNC failure to accommodate the state in the delegate-selection process might weaken the party's prospects for political gains there in next fall's election when, besides the governorship, the US Senate seat of Republican Gordon Humphrey will be at stake.