(from today's NY Times)
Big States’ Push for Earlier Vote Scrambles Race
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 — As many as four big states — California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey — are likely to move up their 2008 presidential primaries to early next February, further upending an already unsettled nominating process and forcing candidates of both parties to rethink their campaign strategies, party officials said Wednesday.
The changes, which seem all but certain to be enacted by state legislatures, mean that the presidential candidates face the prospect of going immediately from an ordered series of early contests in relatively small states in January to a single-day, coast-to-coast battlefield in February, encompassing some of the most expensive advertising markets in the nation.
The changes would appear to benefit well-financed and already familiar candidates and diminish the prospects of those with less money and name recognition going into such a highly compressed series of contests early next year.
Associates of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York Democrat, and Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, said that should either of them stumble early on, the respective party primaries in California and New Jersey — two states that would seem particularly hospitable to them — could offer an expensive but welcome firewall.
But at the same time, states like New Jersey and California could provide an opening for Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who faces the daunting prospect of overcoming resistance among social conservatives in the Republican contests in Iowa and South Carolina in January.
And several party analysts suggested that having such delegate-rich states at stake on Feb. 5 could persuade candidates who might otherwise step out after a defeat in Iowa or New Hampshire to press on in hopes of a dramatic recovery on the new Super Tuesday.
“I think this is huge,” said John Weaver, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain. “And the unintended consequences could be even bigger.”
While officials in both parties are wary of the changes, final say over the calendar rests with the states. Advisers to Republican and Democratic presidential candidates say they have come to view substantial changes as inevitable and they have begun to plan accordingly.
“We don’t set the calendar, and we don’t control the calendar, but we are going to compete aggressively in all these states,” said Patti Solis Doyle, who is the manager of Mrs. Clinton’s exploratory presidential effort. “And I will also tell you we have the resources and the organization to compete in all those states.”
The developments mark the latest upheaval in a political calendar already in disarray. The Democratic Party voted last year to allow Nevada and South Carolina to move their nominating contests into the narrow period at the beginning of the process that once was confined to just Iowa’s caucus and New Hampshire’s primary.
But New Hampshire officials, protective of their first-in-the-nation primary status, have responded by saying they will schedule their primary as early as it takes, even before Jan. 1, to protect its traditional role. And no one seems to know where the scramble for influence among the states will end.
“This is completely out of control,” said William F. Galvin, the Massachusetts secretary of state. He is the leader of a National Association of Secretaries of State committee that is monitoring this movement and trying to push back against it.
“The issue has been bad,” Mr. Galvin said. “But it’s never been as bad as it has been this year. In New Hampshire, they are going to be singing Christmas carols and voting.”
The developments suggest that the national parties are losing any control they have had over the calendar by which they will nominate presidential candidates in 2008. California, New Jersey, Florida and Illinois are most likely to move their primaries early, probably to Feb. 5, joining at least five smaller states that had already scheduled primaries for that day. Illinois lawmakers are talking about moving their primary to help Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic contender; if history is any guide, it is possible that the other candidates might decline to compete in the home state of one of their rivals.
But final votes have not been taken, and state officials said it was possible they could end up going even earlier. Florida in particular has talked about holding its primary seven days after New Hampshire’s, at the risk of sanctions from the Democratic National Committee. And officials said that other states, viewing this surge to the front of the pack, could join in as well.
The Democratic National Committee had adopted a new calendar last year, reducing the once dominant influence of Iowa and New Hampshire, after years of consideration. The Republican Party has so far deferred to Democrats on the changes, waiting to see the outcome of the back-and-forth.
Democrats and Republicans said that the changes would be the latest step in the evolution of a presidential nominating system that increasingly seems resistant to the kind of dark-horse presidential bid that was possible back when small states like Iowa and New Hampshire enjoyed such influence over the nominating process.
It has sowed unease and confusion among campaign staff members as they have tried to measure its implications, and has prompted them to begin making moves now to prepare for a whole different nominating system. While conventional wisdom is that the best-known candidates would benefit, views about how the shift might play out vary among strategists.
Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who was a senior adviser to Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 and 2000, said the calendar changes, combined with the presence on the Democratic side of three strong and well-financed candidates — Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and, probably, John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator — could mean that the battle for the nomination drags on for months.
“I think there’s a very good chance that we are going to be sitting here at the end of next March saying, ‘How are people going to put together a majority of delegates with 80 percent of the delegates gone?’ ” he said. “The nominating process in 2008 is not a little different. It’s fundamentally different.”
And the campaigns are adjusting accordingly. Mr. McCain recently hired Steve Schmidt, a former Bush campaign operative who managed the re-election bid of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Republican, in no small part because of what he saw as Mr. Schmidt’s command of California politics.
Similarly, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has turned his attention to Florida, where he sees a strong prospect of knocking out Mr. McCain by appealing to social conservatives, and installed a campaign team that includes two top political advisers to former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. He is about to announce the hiring of more than six top aides in Florida.
Last weekend, Mr. Romney went to New Jersey, where his aides also think he could make a strong appeal.
“The focus of our efforts publicly have been in Iowa, South Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire,” said Kevin Madden, Mr. Romney’s press secretary. “But we are very well organized in Florida.”
In the case of Florida, Democrats and Republicans have welcomed the prospect of having to spend heavily on an early primary because that could prove an early investment for the general campaign, as well, considering how competitive that state is. That is not the case in California or New Jersey, two expensive states that have been solidly Democratic in recent presidential races.
And some Democrats disputed the notion that a California victory could help someone recover from a poor showing in the early states. Nick Baldick, a senior adviser to Mr. Edwards, noted that Howard Dean spent heavily in states that held their primaries after New Hampshire and Iowa and never recovered.
“All that mattered was momentum and winning in Iowa,” Mr. Baldick said Wednesday. “I would argue that more states on Feb. 5 makes that exponentially more true. That if you don’t have momentum going into states like those four big states, then forget it and just go home.”