- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Only one of 20 witnesses at a D.C. Council hearing yesterday testified against a bill that would make the District's presidential primary the first in the nation next year.
"The D.C. Republican Committee supports efforts to advance the date of the primary provided it is consistent with the [Republican National Committee's] window from Feb. 3 to June 15," said Betsy Werronen, chairman of the local Republican Party.
Like the Democratic National Committee, the Republican Party will disqualify 50 percent of convention delegates from any state that violates the RNC's primary rules, Mrs. Werronen said.
But unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican Party does not exempt states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, which historically have held the first caucuses and primaries in the nation.
"New Hampshire and Iowa Republicans have chosen to accept the cut as a trade-off to being first," Mrs. Werronen said.
If the mostly Democratic District moves its primary to Jan. 13, the local Republican Party would hold a separate caucus later, she said. Democrats outnumber Republican 9-to-1 in the District.
The Washington Times reported last month that a bill introduced by D.C. Council member Jack Evans would change the city's 2004 primary date from the first Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in January. The Ward 2 Democrat offered the bill to highlight the District's lack of congressional voting rights.
The DNC will begin its annual winter meeting in the District today.
The D.C. Democratic State Committee has voted not to support the Evans bill and has urged the council to drop the proposal for next year but reintroduce it for the 2008 presidential election.
Local and national Democrats said the local party's opposition will let party officials determine the city's 2004 presidential candidate, in the process disenfranchising city voters in the primary.
City voters in the primary will be participating in a "nonbinding presidential beauty contest," said Donna Brazile, an at-large DNC member who sits on the Rules and Bylaws Committee. "Democratic candidates are unlikely to campaign for a primary where they don't receive a delegate."
The council has the authority to set the date for the primary, but the local Democratic Party has sole authority to set the date for the caucus to select delegates to the Democratic National Convention, said DNC attorney Joseph Sandler.
"The local Democratic Party could go ahead with its own caucus process inside the window for allocating delegates to presidential candidates, securing its seats at the convention," Miss Brazile said.
The local party also determines how delegates are allocated to presidential candidates.
Mrs. Werronen said the primaries essentially allow voters to guide the party about who to support at the convention. The rift between the local party and city officials would prevent D.C. voters from registering their presidential preferences.
State legislatures and local parties typically work together to set the dates for primaries and caucuses, Miss Brazile said.
It remains to be seen if Congress would allow the District to fund an unsanctioned primary, Mr. Evans said.
If Congress does not authorize the funds, the local Democratic Party would have nearly complete autonomy to select a candidate, absent the voice of D.C. voters. Local Democratic Chairman Norman C. Neverson said the party will abide by political culture and use the primary whenever it occurs to guide its choice at the convention.


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