- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

A move by four major states to hold their 2008 presidential primaries early next February will have a dramatic impact on the nominating process by favoring front-runners in a high-speed race, say party officials.

An accelerated nominating calendar will affect the candidates’ campaign strategies, putting more pressure on most of them to succeed in the early January contests. But it also has renewed political debate over the nature of an increasingly front-loaded process that chooses a nominee before much of the country has had any say.

Contenders are forced to campaign on television in a larger number of big states simultaneously without meeting many voters.

“The front-loading is going to hurt all of the candidates in both parties because whoever the two nominees end up being, it will be such a truncated nominating process that they will not have been truly tested by the voters,” said Kathleen Sullivan, the Democratic Party chairman in New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first primary.

“What we will end up having is the nominee of our party being decided no later than Feb. 5, because there will be at least 12 and probably more states ending up having a primary on that one day for both parties.”

Iowa will hold the first contest next year in a system of local party caucuses held in school cafeterias and town-hall meeting rooms on Jan. 14, followed by New Hampshire’s primary on Jan. 22. But Nevada plans to hold caucuses between the two dates on Jan. 19, to open up the early process to the Western states, with January’s contests ending with South Carolina’s primary on Jan. 29.

The February schedule, however, will be dramatically changed, as four major electoral states — New Jersey, Illinois, Florida and California — are expected to move their primaries up to Feb. 5. They will join eight other states on a Super Tuesday primary that officials in both parties say will all but seal the nominations.

Party officials in the four major states said they had little doubt that their legislatures would act to move their primaries up on the calendar.

Strategists are trying to determine how the front-loading changes will affect traditional presidential campaigning, but the consensus seems to be it will work to the advantage of the better-funded, high-name recognition front-runners who will have the money to compete in the big four’s expensive media markets.

Should one of them falter in one or more of the early-January contests, such as in independent-minded Iowa or New Hampshire, they would have the resources to recover in the Feb. 5 mega-primaries, strategists say.

In the Democratic race, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton holds strong early leads over her rivals in New Jersey and her native state of Illinois and in California. On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani held a wide lead in a Quinnipiac University poll in New Jersey and California.

“If you take the lead in early January, you can convert it into a prohibitive delegate lead in the bigger states,” said Mac Stipanovich, a Florida Republican campaign strategist.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in back of the Democratic pack. His advisers think he will have opportunities throughout the Western and Northeastern states to raise his political profile. They also say the power of the big four could cause front-runners to stumble.

“There’s no question that the primary calendar is getting more front-loaded, and California is kind of the 800-pound gorilla in that schedule,” said Democratic state party chairman and Richardson adviser John Wertheim. “Clearly, Hillary Clinton will have a formidable campaign, but that doesn’t mean she will have an insurmountable campaign by any stretch of the imagination.”

But some party chairmen also point to what they say are the unintended consequences of the compressed primary calendar; namely, that voters in the big four states will not see that much of the candidates.

“The four states that are going to matter before going into February are those early states, and the February 5 states are going to ratify what happens in the early states because the campaign process from then on is going to be all press coverage and television,” Ms. Sullivan said.

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