S.C. Democrats could follow GOP's lead

COLUMBIA -- S.C. Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Khare Fowler will ask the Democratic National Committee for permission to move the 2008 presidential primary up 10 days to Jan. 19 to coincide with the S.C. GOP primary.

Changing the date from Jan. 29 would preserve the state's designation as the first in the South to cast primary votes. Voting early gives South Carolina influence on which candidates will be positioned to capture the nomination.

The move, Fowler told The State newspaper Wednesday, is not about Florida's decision to hold both of its primaries Jan. 29, the date the DNC had reserved for South Carolina alone.

"I'm not comfortable being 10 days after the Republicans," Fowler said. "This is a South Carolina thing, not a Florida thing."

Moving the date requires approval from the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which sets the primary calendar. No meeting of the committee has been scheduled, Fowler said, but she added that if anything is going to happen with the date, it will happen during the next two weeks.

DNC spokesman Damien LaVera said the committee would consider any request but would not comment as to whether it would approve one. He said a committee meeting is expected "in the next couple of months."

Fowler is not sure when she will formally make the request, but she said it will be "when I think the time is right to ask."

Published reports in Nevada and on TheAtlantic.com have speculated that Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have agreed in principle to a calendar that has Iowa's caucus Jan. 5, New Hampshire's primary Jan. 8, Nevada's caucus Jan. 12 and the S.C. primary Jan. 19.

That likely would result in Democrats and Republicans voting on the same day in all four states.

Meanwhile, Michigan has scheduled both its primaries for Jan. 15, and Florida moved to Jan. 29. A dozen states, including powerhouses New York, California and Illinois, are set for Feb. 5.

The presidential campaigns are mostly claiming indifference to the shifting calendar.

"No matter the date, we look forward to competing and running a strong campaign in South Carolina," said Lachlan McIntosh, spokesman for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's campaign.

But the reality is that keeping small states such as Nevada and South Carolina on dates by themselves most benefits candidates not named Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Clinton, the U.S. senator from New York, and Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois, are the Democratic front-runners and have raised millions more in campaign dollars than the rest of the field.

Clinton and Obama alone likely have the money to compete in every state no matter the date. Other candidates, such as Richardson and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, would count on strong showings in the early states to give them momentum down the line that they could not buy through advertising.

"South Carolina is very important to John Edwards," Edwards spokeswoman Teresa Wells said. "We believe in the importance of South Carolina maintaining its first-in-the-South status, and Senator Edwards has signed a pledge to show his commitment to the voters of South Carolina, many of whom helped him win the state four years ago."

All the Democratic candidates have signed pledges vowing not to campaign in Michigan and Florida after those states moved their primary dates forward.

The DNC in August 2006 agreed to a 2008 calendar that had Iowa's caucus Jan. 14, Nevada's caucus Jan. 19, New Hampshire's primary Jan. 22 and the S.C. primary Jan. 29. No other state was allowed to vote before Feb. 5.

But Florida and South Carolina's Republicans threw that calendar into chaos. Florida lawmakers voted to set both its Republican and Democratic primaries for Jan. 29.

South Carolina's Republicans had tentatively been scheduled to hold their primary Feb. 2, but state GOP chairman Katon Dawson vowed to keep his primary first-in-the-South. Florida's move forced his hand, and Dawson set the primary here for Jan. 19.

For her part, Fowler said she is concerned that having the Democratic primary 10 days after South Carolina Republicans vote would hurt Democratic turnout.

Primary dates

Published reports have speculated that the national Democratic Party has agreed to this primary schedule:

• Iowa: Jan. 5

• New Hampshire: Jan. 8

• Nevada: Jan. 12

• South Carolina: Jan. 19