S.C. Dems want to move up vote 3 days

COLUMBIA -- The S.C. Democratic Party will ask the national party for permission to move its 2008 presidential primary to Jan. 26, meaning Republicans and Democrats would vote on separate days.

The state party's executive committee voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the Democratic National Committee for a waiver to hold its primary three days earlier than planned.

State party chairwoman Carol Khare Fowler said her original plan was to ask the DNC for permission to move to Jan. 19, the same day as the S.C. Republican Party's primary, but said there was not support in Washington for that date.

"I have been assured that if we ask for a waiver (for Jan. 19), it will be declined," Fowler said.

Fowler said DNC chairman Howard Dean "believes this is not a good idea."

But, she said, she has been told there is support for South Carolina to move to Saturday, Jan. 26.

If the DNC does not approve the state party's waiver, the party will not move on its own. Doing so would cause South Carolina to lose all its delegates to the national convention in 2008. The candidates for president also have signed a pledge not to campaign in any state that violates the DNC-approved calendar.

The S.C. Election Commission requires the parties to give it 90 days notice of its primary date. That means the Democrats have until Oct. 28 to get permission to move to Jan. 26.

Moving, Fowler said, would keep South Carolina's first-in-the-South status and give it a date to itself.

The DNC originally gave South Carolina a date to itself, but Florida's Legislature ruined that plan when lawmakers there voted to move its Democratic and Republican primaries to Jan. 29, in violation of the rules of both national parties.

Moving to Jan. 26, Fowler said, will keep S.C. Democrats "ahead of Florida, for whatever that's worth."

South Carolina's Democrats also would "invite" South Carolina's Republicans to move their primary to the same date to save taxpayers money. State lawmakers agreed to spend $2.2 million in public money to cover the cost of the primaries.

"The people in the state are going to look at the parties as imprudent if we have a chance to have the primaries on the same day," said executive committee member Fred Sheheen of Kershaw County. "If we end up having them a week apart, we end up costing the state a million dollars."

S.C. GOP chairman Katon Dawson said later Tuesday their date is set.

"Thanks for the kind invitation, but Jan. 19 is our primary date," Dawson said. They have already informed the election commission of its plans, he said.

Also Tuesday, S.C. Democratic Party executive committee member Mike Evatt of Oconee County suggested the party put nonbinding referendums on its presidential ballot to help drum up interest in the primary. One suggestion, Evatt said, would be to ask primary voters if they believe President Bush should be impeached.

Fowler said she would ask the State Election Commission if it's possible to include referendum questions.