DNC deals big blow to primary

PORTSMOUTH -- Granite Staters are calling the Democratic National Committee's decision Saturday to shake up the primary calendar and punish candidates and states that do not follow the new schedule a "hollow threat."

The DNC adopted a resolution Saturday that would alter the Granite State's political tradition by placing a Nevada caucus before the New Hampshire primary.

Predicting this threat decades ago, Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, sponsored a law in 1975 that requires the New Hampshire secretary of state to schedule the presidential primary before any similar election in the country.

In what appears to be a response to that law, the DNC's resolution punishes candidates who campaign in states that disregard its calendar by denying them delegates from the states who fail to follow the new schedule.

Splaine said Saturday he will call on Secretary of State Bill Gardner to follow the law and schedule the primary before the Nevada caucus, and possibly before Iowa.

Gardner said earlier this week that he plans to "follow state law, period."

The vote

The Rules and Bylaws Committee made the recommendation to shake up the primary calendar to the entire DNC Saturday in what it said is an effort to further consider the country's racial and economic diversity.

Before the vote, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan urged her fellow party members to vote against the resolution, citing concerns over front loading the election process and taking away the opportunity to have candidates meet one-on-one with voters, which can occur in New Hampshire because of the state's size.

Sullivan quoted many politicians who have expressed concerns with changing the primary, including former President Bill Clinton, who recently said, "No matter what you do, if you move something ahead of New Hampshire, you are, by definition, going to minimize the amount of time for retail, one-on-one, small group politicking ... something unique in preparing people to be not only better candidates, but to be better presidents."

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, rebutted Sullivan's statements.

"The Democratic Party is at a historic junction," she said. "We are on the road to becoming a 50-state party."

In response to the vote, Sullivan said, "The Democratic National Committee did a great disservice to our candidates, our party's grassroots, and Democrats across the nation today by pushing through a front-loaded calendar. ... Our nominee will be chosen by the end of January, a nominee who will be chosen by fewer than 500,000 voters. That is not democracy nor is that diversity."

The complications

Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire and associate research professor of political science, called the DNC's threat to take away delegates "hollow" because New Hampshire does not have that many delegates, yet the state's decision can often influence voters in other states.

"The big winner with the rule change is the DNC leadership, as it gives them more control of the selection process," Smith said. "The big losers, outside of New Hampshire, are general American voters because New Hampshire's vetting of candidates will be reduced."

Smith also predicted once the election rolls around, "the DNC will try to make nice" and end up including the delegates.

Splaine said he was deeply disappointed in the DNC's decision not only for its implications on the election process, but also because its threat to take away a candidate's delegates punishes voters, which he said was a great disservice to the country's democracy.

"It is not only a hollow threat, it is a stupid threat," Splaine said.

The Portsmouth representative said the decision is bound to "create a lot of confusion," but he was confident state law will be upheld and New Hampshire's primary will take place before Nevada's caucus.

2008 potential presidential candidate Mark Warner, current Governor of Virginia, came to speak in Portsmouth Saturday and said he was disappointed with the DNC decision.

"New Hampshire has earned the right to be the first primary in the country," Warner said. "Should I take the plunge, you'll find me campaigning in New Hampshire to earn your support no matter when you set your primary date."

State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, agreed with Warner and said she was "disheartened" by the DNC decision.

"There is no question in my mind that New Hampshire deserves to keep the primary," she said. "Every candidate who has come here said it has made them a better candidate to be able to come door to door."

The experience of one-on-one involvement with candidates is something N.H. State Rep. Jaqueline Cali-Pitts called "a New Hampshire tradition," and she believes it is too deep-set to simply end.

"Having these guys come to your house, shake your hand and have a cup of coffee with you -- just because you move a caucus doesn't mean this New Hampshire tradition will stop," she said.

While the DNC's decision Saturday strictly affects the Democratic election calendar, GOP national committeeman Tom Rath told The Associated Press the Republican Party will most likely hold its primary on the same day as New Hampshire.

Reporter Jen Keefe contributed to this story.