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Dems eye 2012 calendar: Iowa, Nevada, then NH

PHILIP ELLIOTT
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Iowa and Nevada would hold presidential caucuses first, then New Hampshire would have its primary, followed by South Carolina under a calendar that national Democrats were set to recommend on Friday.

Democrats gathered to discuss how they choose their presidential nominee, whether the independent superdelegates hold too much influence in the process and what penalties would be applied for violators.

A draft of the calendar leaves intact the traditional early voting states. All others would hold their primaries and caucuses after Feb. 2, 2012. Scofflaw states would see their influence within the party slashed by half.

Iowa would hold its caucuses on Jan. 12, Nevada on Jan. 16. New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary would be Jan. 19, with the South Carolina primary on Jan. 26.

“The Republican committee has adopted the same window that we have adopted, contingent on us adopting them,” said rules committee chair James Roosevelt. “The two parties will be in the same place.”

But not necessarily, warned Alice Germond, a DNC member from West Virginia. She wondered if “if we’re not putting ourselves in a box or a bind” by recommending harsh penalties against states for holding such contests before they are allowed.

Elaine Kamarck, a veteran of the Clinton White House, said the rules were needed to prevent a free-for-all nominating calendar like one seen in 2008 when states leapfrogged over each other in an effort to increase its influence in the nominating process and building the state party organization with an eye on November.

“We have very, very few sanctions. If we start taking away things like this rule, we lose all ability,” said Kamarck, a DNC member from Massachusetts, who described the nominating process as imperfect.

The panel’s recommendations require full DNC endorsement. They meet later this summer in St. Louis, one of the four cities Democrats are considering for the convention to renominate President Barack Obama.

The president is expected to seek re-election, so the rules discussion was largely structured around the 2016 nominating contest. After a divisive and protracted primary contest in 2008, the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee sought to make the path to nomination more clear.

The panel recommended harsh penalties for states and candidates who violate that calendar. Candidates cannot win delegates if they campaign in states that break the calendar. And states who schedule those contests automatically will be stripped by half of their delegates.

The panel also prepared to discuss superdelegates, the party elders who can back candidates regardless of voters’ wishes. In 2008, about a fifth of the delegates to the nominating convention in 2008 were superdelegates.

“It will reduce the overall percentage” of super delegates, said Alexis Herman, a co-chair of the rules committee who explained the proposals to a room full of DNC members – themselves superdelegates.