- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS | A plan to head off in 2012 the same kind of presidential-primary bunching that happened this year has crashed, with the national Republican Party’s rules panel turning the proposal down Wednesday by a 39-12 vote.

“We put the cars on the track for a train wreck in 2012,” Republican National Convention delegate Bill Crocker, a GOP national committeeman from Texas, told The Washington Times.

Some RNC members attributed the crash to behind-the-scenes meddling by McCain presidential campaign representatives before the highly contentious four-hour meeting in the Hyatt Regency Hotel here.

“Once again, meaningful reform was shut down by the presidential campaign staff,” Robert T. “Bob” Bennett, chairman of the Ohio GOP and author of the Ohio Plan, told The Times.

“It’s a money game, and you know who benefits by that — the consultants,” Mr. Bennett said angrily after his reform plan was defeated.

Rules committee Chairman David Norcross, a Republican national committeeman from New Jersey who ran the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, said he is “going to have to e-mail my counterpart in Denver, Jim Roosevelt, the grandson of FDR - and he is going to be devastated.”

Some Democratic National Committee officials also wanted to head off another round of front-loaded presidential primaries four years from now, but their party rules don’t permit changes in primary rules until after the November election, Mr. Norcross said.

“I was working with them to make sure anything we did wouldn’t conflict with what they might do to solve problem of bunching up of primaries,” Mr. Norcross said.

Some Republicans had invested considerable time and energy in the hopes of turning the presidential election process away from the national primary they believed it was heading toward. Feelings ran high as a result.

“The speech Bennett made after the vote was not conciliatory - it was threatening,” said Carolyn Meadows, a member of Republican National Convention’s credentials committee.

The rejected plan would have rotated groups of states in future presidential primaries, with each group having an opportunity to be first on the primary elections calendar.

Instead, the rules committee adopted a modification of the current calendar, moving the earliest date that all states except New Hampshire and South Carolina may have their presidential primaries to the first Tuesday in March. This year it was the first Tuesday in February.

Mr. Bennett said he had been misled into telling the other rules committee members at the beginning of the Wednesday meeting that the McCain campaign had decided to stay neutral.

He learned afterward that top McCain operatives had worked to undermine the plan supported by Mr. Bennett, Mr. Norcross, Virginia national committeeman Morton Blackwell, and, as recently as a few months ago, 25 other rules committee members.

“It’s very frustrating,” Maryland national committeeman Louis Pope said. “The committee today chose to overturn its previous work and made the system even worse by moving the earliest primary date back a month.”