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by Mark Weisenmiller

New Hampshire considers move to end of 2008

(IPS) -- The Florida legislature's decision to hold the state's primary vote a week earlier than the rest of the country has created a cascade of problems for the 49 other states gearing up for the U.S. presidential elections in November 2008.

Florida lawmakers designated Jan. 29, 2008, as the date for the state's primary, in which voters select the various parties' candidates. The rescheduling directly violated rules set by both the Democratic and Republican National Committees.

Both national committees have threatened to cut in half the number of delegates that Florida can send to the Democratic and Republication national conventions in 2008. In addition, both parties have formally told the state's Democratic and Republican leaders that holding a primary before Feb. 5, 2008, is disallowed.

Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist could veto the measure when the state legislature meets in special session in June but is not expected to do so.

Political movers and shakers across the country are now jockeying for position to make their respective states' primaries the focus of the United States and the world.

In South Carolina, state Democratic and Republican leaders had sought to make the state the first in the South to hold a primary, a plan now scuttled by the actions of the Florida Legislature. If South Carolina retaliates by scheduling its primary even earlier, this move, in turn, would directly affect the state of New Hampshire, whose Secretary of State Bill Gardner has told reporters that he will enforce that state's law proclaiming it must hold the first primary in the United States.

In all, more than 25 states are now discussing whether to vote on or before Feb. 5, 2008. Known as "Super Tuesday," it is the scheduled primary day for key states such as California, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, all of which have large numbers of delegates in the Electoral College.

"We're trying to work with the [Florida] state party as much as possible. But we do have the [Democratic National Committee] rules and we will enforce them," said Stacie Paxton, the party's press secretary.

Likewise, Amber Wilkerson, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, said, "At this point, our rules are pretty straightforward and they were voted on at our last [Republican National Committee] convention. The chairman of the [committee] is going to uphold the rules."

As it happens, the chairman of the Republican National Committee is Mel Martinez -- one of Florida's two senators.

Wilkerson insisted that "there is no conflict of interest between Senator Martinez as head of the [national committee] and his position as a U.S. senator." A representative from Martinez's office referred an IPS request for comment to the Republican National Committee, saying that "we here don't comment on national party matters."

The flap has thrown the campaign strategies of Democratic presidential hopefuls into disarray. Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean has warned that any state primary held before Feb. 5, 2008, could be considered non-binding, although most analysts think this is an empty threat.

"We believe that this discussion is a political discussion," said Sandy Wayland, president of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, a nonpartisan, pro-voting rights group. "This is to showcase Florida politicians -- it gives them a national platform. Right now, this is self-promotion. This is a presidential election and when the circus comes to town, they want their names out there in the newspapers and their faces on the television screens."

Anthony Corrado Jr., a professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and an expert on U.S. presidential elections, said that the dispute is speeding up the pace and intensity of the campaigning.

"We've had a Democratic debate and two Republican debates and it's not even Memorial Day yet," he said, referring to May 28, which is considered an unofficial campaign kick-off date. "All of this is going to force the candidates to raise more money, as they will have to do more television advertising, and that is expensive."

Various solutions to the mayhem are being discussed. One proposal would create regional blocs that rotate their primary schedules during election cycles. Another would have various states vote first on an alternating basis. A third option, which Sen. Martinez supports, is to have a national primary day, on which all 50 states would vote simultaneously.

"(A national primary day) is an interesting alternative, but the question is how would this empower candidates," said Dr. Toby Moore, project manager for the Commission on Election Reform based at American University in Washington.

"I don't know the answer to that question. But both [Democratic and Republican leaders] are very badly fractured. It's headed for the cliff -- it's going to become absurd. The candidates are going to have to campaign earlier and earlier. But the biggest danger is that people don't focus on the election until it's too late."

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Albion Monitor   May 23, 2007   (

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