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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Candidates’ Compact Stop Primary Leapfrog?

That six Democratic presidential candidates, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Obama, and Richardson, have agreed not to campaign in states that violate the DNC’s rules about primary scheduling should come as welcome news to anxious Democrats. If reason prevails, that should put an end to the states’ early primary leapfrogging. States violating the rules will now lose much of the economic benefit and media spotlight they would otherwise receive, as well as the political clout of voting delegates at next year’s Democratic convention in Denver. It’s hard to imagine Michigan and Florida going forward with their early primary plans with such a costly penalty now locked in place.
There will be grumbling about privilege and fairness. At present, rules permit only four states — Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina — to vote in January. In his statement supporting the pledge not to campaign in states violating the Party’s rules, John Edwards addressed the issue this way, according to Mark Z Barabbak’s L.A. Times report:

The four “need to be first because in these states ideas count, not just money,” Edwards said in a written statement. “This tried-and-true nominating system is the only way for voters to judge the field based on the quality of the candidate, not the depth of their war chest.”

But the agreement of a majority of the Democratic presidential field should help, and the Democratic Party’s national leadership is committed to holding firm. As DNC member and Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, who had an op-ed on the topic in yesterday’s Washington Post, explained,

Failure to apply the rules would have been an affront to the states that adhered to them — and an invitation for more states to break them…the nominating system should not be determined by a state’s economic development plan or a desire to have candidates focus on parochial issues.

In her New York Times report, Sarah Wheaton explains why the less well-funded candidates may have been the first to sign the pledge not to campaign in the states violating the Party’s early primary rules:

…To campaign in large states like Michigan and Florida, while also stumping in the approved early states, would probably require significant ad buys in expensive media markets. The campaigns of Senators Obama and Clinton may be able to afford that — the others can’t, regardless of strategic priorities for either retail politics or mass messaging.

There is some talk of Michigan and Florida going ahead with non-binding early primaries, detaching the delegate-selection process to a later date to comply with the rules. But it is unclear whether the candidates’ pledge not to campaign in early primary states would still apply under those circumstances.
The GOP rules currently penalize early primary (before Feb. 5) states — including New Hampshire — with the loss of some, but not all delegates, thereby setting the stage for what may prove to be an even more contentious dispute.

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