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Opinion: A few Democrats already have 2012 on their mind

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Most Democrats remain squarely focused on the matters at hand: Who will win their presidential nomination and when will that be determined?

A cadre of party leaders, however, are looking down the road, mulling another conundrum: How can a repeat be avoided of the free-for-all atmosphere that surrounded the setting of this year’s caucus and primary schedule?

Elaine Kamarck, a longtime party pro, is one of those whose attention already is turned toward 2012 (only partially, to be sure -- as a Democratic National Committee member, she’s a superdelegate backing Hillary Clinton).

On Wednesday, Kamarck traveled to Washington from her current perch at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and, at a gathering with a small group of journalists, discussed ways that a nomination calendar for the next presidential campaign might come together more easily.

Starting from the assumption that the immovable object and irresistible force in the process -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- will retain their starting-line roles, Kamarck said she would like to see definite dates decreed for these contests far earlier than they were in this cycle.

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At the least, she said, there is strong motivation from many quarters to prevent the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire from again abutting so closely the holiday season (that, in and of itself, would be a gift for all concerned).

On the matter of ‘front-loading’ -- the ever-growing and increasingly chaotic ...

push by states large and small to schedule their caucuses and primaries as early as possible -- Kamarck opined that the way the current Democratic fight has played out ought to curb such efforts.

But she predicted her party would take further steps to entice states not to jump the gun.

Already, those that schedule their contests in the campaign’s last stages receive ‘bonus’ delegates to the Democratic convention. For the 2012 race, she said, states willing to similarly wait could see their delegate allotment upped by 30% or 40%.

Kamarck for the most part steered clear of assessing the ongoing Clinton-Barack Obama battle. But she did say she would not be surprised if the fight went to the convention floor.

Clinton might emulate Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1980 strategy, she said. Although behind in delegates to then-President Carter when the primary season ended, Kennedy kept his campaign alive through the convening of that year’s convention in mid-August in hopes that political lightning would strike for him.

It didn’t. But Kamarck noted that if Clinton adopts a comparable game plan, the New York senator almost assuredly will be much closer to Obama in delegates after the last primary than Kennedy was to Carter, giving her greater reason to hope she can catch a race-changing break sometime before Democrats convene in Denver in late August.

Kamarck reiterated a point Clinton occasionally makes -- even pledged delegates can switch their allegiance. Under party rules that Kamarck knows so well, these delegates are only required to ‘in all good conscience’ stand by the candidate they were picked to support, she said -- meaning, of course, that they can have a change of conscience.

-- Don Frederick


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