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A glowing editorial in the New York Times. A lopsided victory in a vote of nearly 3-1 taken by a nationally influential political committee. All in all, Wilmington, Del., lawyer Richard A. Forsten hasn’t had a bad month of May. Forsten, a partner at Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, is general counsel to the state Republican Party — which makes him the leading advocate for what is being called the “Delaware Plan,” a proposal to restructure the nation’s chaotic and criticized presidential primary calendar by having states vote in order of population, from smallest to largest. The Delaware Plan, which Forsten drafted along with Republican State Chairman Basil R. Battaglia, is defying all odds by actually making headway as the most plausible model for nominating presidential candidates in 2004 and beyond. It’s not as though little Delaware has any clout to put behind it. It’s not as though the state even has a successful primary system of its own — it does not. After a history of conventions and caucuses, the two attempts at primary elections in 1996 and 2000 were, at best, experiences to build upon, with poor participation by candidates and voters. PROPELLED BY LOGIC Even so, the Delaware Plan is proceeding, apparently by sheer logic alone. “It has legs,” Forsten said. “The more it’s out there, the more we win converts,” Battaglia said. Forsten and Battaglia saw the plan progress May 12, when they were in Indianapolis for a meeting of the national GOP’s Standing Committee on Rules. With each state entitled to one vote, the members decided overwhelmingly 36-13 to recommend the proposal to the entire Republican National Committee, the party’s governing assembly. If the national committee agrees, then the Delaware Plan will be forwarded along to the Republican National Convention, which meets this summer in Philadelphia. The delegates there will have the final say. The potential for ultimate success still remains elusive, not least because it is so much easier in politics to stop something than to start it. Even so, the sponsors remain optimistic. “You’ve got to do it one step at a time. If luck prevails, then maybe,” Battaglia said. “Who thought we’d get this far?” The reason there is a Delaware Plan at all is the immense dissatisfaction with the current presidential primary system. Bill Brock, a former Republican national chairman and Tennessee senator, complained the current calendar was so compressed it disenfranchised most voters and forced the candidates to raise so much money early that it knocked some out — like Dan Quayle and Elizabeth Dole — even before the voting began. “Too many people in too many states have no voice in the election of our major party nominees. For them the nominations are over before they have even begun. This can only further contribute to a sense of disenchantment and even alienation,” Brock wrote in a critique of the primary system. “Nothing is more dangerous to the course of self-government and freedom than the loss of participation on the part of our citizens.” PANEL LIKES PLAN Brock was tapped by the Republican Party to chair an advisory commission on the presidential nominating process, which held hearings and considered alternatives to the present system. The alternative that the commission liked the most was the Delaware Plan, which is why the proposal emerged as the one favored at the meeting of the rules committee in Indianapolis. It was icing on the cake when the New York Times weighed in May 4 with an editorial endorsement, even if the newspaper did give the credit for the proposal to Brock’s commission, instead of Delaware. “This is a sound plan that ought to be adopted by the Republican National Convention this summer and copied by the Democrats, as well,” the editorial said. The essence of the Delaware Plan remains as Forsten and Battaglia envisioned it, although there has been some tinkering with the details along the way. As it is currently constituted, the plan would divide the states into four “pods,” based on population, from the smallest to the largest. For example, Delaware would be in the first pod, and California would be in the last one. The pods would hold their primaries month by month. The first pod would vote in February, the second in March, the third in April and the fourth in May. It has not been decided whether Iowa and New Hampshire, the traditional leadoff states, would continue to go before everyone else in their own pre-pod or be lumped in with the others in the pods. The goal of the plan is to prevent a nominee from emerging before the final pod, so that the voting in every state is meaningful. The largest states, however, are dubious that the primary season could be sustained so long. They largely made up the bloc that opposed the Delaware plan in the rules committee. The 13 “nays” came from Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia. New Hampshire voted “no” out of concern of losing its first-in-the-nation status. Unlike Delaware, those states have clout. It is a key among the reasons this proposal, for all the progress it has made, still could die on the vine. ANSWER COULD BE ‘NO’ “Where do you go if the states just say no?” said William M. Gardner, the secretary of state in New Hampshire. Gardner has a point — because the political parties don’t have complete control over the primary system. They share it with the 50 states, where the legislatures set their own election laws. The Democratic Party is another possible stumbling block. It is watching with great interest as the Republicans wrestle with the primary calendar, but there is no guarantee it will sign on to create a uniform system. The Democrats tried to revamp the primaries in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and all it got them was one term for Jimmy Carter, sandwiched within a Republican run of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Since the current calendar has given the Democrats a two-term president, they appear content to let the other party take the lead. Joseph A. Pika, a University of Delaware political science professor who is an expert on the primary system, gives the Republicans credit for trying but has his doubts the Delaware Plan will be adopted. “I don’t think it’s likely to happen,” Pika said, even as he acknowledged, “The logic is pretty good. It would succeed in having a sustained interest. It allows a dark horse to build momentum, to start small with person-to-person politics and then move on to the larger states while raising money over the course.” What may be insurmountable, Pika said, is the indifference that both George W. Bush and Albert Gore Jr. have shown to changing a primary calendar from which they benefited. Like the political parties they represent, the leading candidates prefer a system in which the winners are anointed as quickly and painlessly as possible. Still, Pika believes the Delaware Plan, if it continues to progress, could become a viable model down the primary road. “It wouldn’t disappear from the agenda just because it fails this time,” he said. If not 2004, there’s always 2008.

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