Change Commission: Findings and Recos for Primary Timing

Timing of the 2012 Presidential Nominating Calendar


The Resolution establishing the Commission mandates that the 2012 primary and caucus calendar open on the first Tuesday in March and that the pre-window open on February 1. The Commission was charged with developing methods to reduce frontloading within the window period and to review the rules for proper enforcement of the primary and caucus timing requirements and delegate allocation matters.18 The Commission examined and discussed a number of different scenarios and alternatives relative to these issues.

There was a consensus among the members that the goal of the nominating process should be to produce the best and strongest Democratic presidential nominee. That goal is best achieved by devising a system that gives Democratic candidates an opportunity to present themselves and their views to a broad range of voters. It must also allow voters an opportunity to see, hear and question the candidates and measure them against one another.

With respect to these issues, the Commission found that:

  • Primaries and caucuses began too early in 2008 and that something has to be done to change this in the future. Don Fowler stated during his testimony that he believes “the process is too long and the more you move it closer to the convention and the election itself, I think you serve the interests of the party better and the interests of the political system.”19
  • There was considerable concern about the issue of frontloading. In 2008, 23 states held their primaries or caucuses on February 5, the opening day of the window. The 2008 Delegate Selection Rules established a bonus incentive to encourage states to hold their nominating events later in the season. However, this did not achieve the hoped-for results, with only 10 states earning a total of 54 bonus delegates.
  • There was support for encouraging regional or sub-regional clusters of primaries and caucuses that would be held throughout the primary and caucus season. Testimony on regional clustering that occurred during 2008, such as the Potomac Primary held in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, indicated strong political and public acceptance of the benefits of this approach. Commission member David Plouffe stressed the importance of spacing these primaries and caucuses so that candidates have more time to spend in each cluster. There was a general consensus among the Commission members that state party decisions to cluster their primaries and caucuses should be encouraged, but voluntary.


There was discussion of offering bonus delegates and other incentives, such as additional convention credentials or preferred convention seating or hotel assignments, to those states clustering their primaries or caucuses (as was provided in the 2008 rules for states holding contests later in the season).

18 Resolution establishing the Democratic Change Commission as adopted by the Democratic National Convention on August 25, 2008 – test of resolution in the Appendix

19 Don Fowler testimony at October 24 Democratic Change Commission meeting



Accordingly, the Commission recommends for 2012:

  • The pre-window events (i.e., Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina) should be held no earlier than February 1st and the window for all other states should open on the first Tuesday in March.
  • States are encouraged to cluster their contests by region or sub-region. This would not be a mandatory obligation upon the State Parties. The Commission recommends that these clusters be staggered throughout the window to allow for a deliberative process that benefits all voters and caucus-goers throughout the country. The RBC and the DNC would coordinate with state parties, state legislatures and Governors to move the dates of their contests into regional clusters.
  • This approach should be encouraged by offering incentives, specifically bonus delegates, preferred convention seating and/or preferred convention hotels, to those states which opt to participate in these regional clusters.
  • Under this approach, the Change Commission would encourage the RBC to review the enforcement measures that are currently in place and make any necessary adjustments to ensure proper enforcement of the Party’s rules.
  • The Commission recommends that the Democratic Party coordinate, to the extent feasible, with the Republican Party to facilitate the new timing for the window and to minimize the front loading of the contests within the window.
  • Adopting these recommendations during the 2012 election cycle would allow the Party by using this special opportunity of 1) a relatively rare cycle of no apparent Democratic presidential nomination challenge, and 2) an RNC empowered for the first time by the Republican National Convention to recommend nominating rules changes between national conventions.

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