Three of the major Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday pledged not to campaign in Florida, Michigan and other states trying to leapfrog the 2008 primary calendar, a move that solidified the importance of the opening contests of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Hours after Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina agreed to sign a loyalty pledge put forward by party officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York followed suit. The decision seemed to dash any hopes of Mrs. Clinton relying on a strong showing in Florida as a springboard to the nomination.
“We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process,” Patti Solis Doyle, the Clinton campaign manager, said in a statement.
Florida trying for early vote
The pledge sought to preserve the status of traditional early-voting states and bring order to an unwieldy series of primaries that threatened to accelerate the selection process. It was devised to keep candidates from campaigning in Florida, where the primary is set for Jan. 29, and Michigan, which is trying to move its contest to Jan. 15.
The Democratic National Committee has vowed to take away Florida’s 210 delegates — and those of any other state that moved its nominating contest before Feb. 5 — if it does not come up with an alternative plan.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Obama said he believed that the calendar put forth by the national committee was “in the best interests of our party and our nation.” At the same time, though, the pledge allows him to focus on a handful of states in an effort to gain ground on Mrs. Clinton, the presumed front-runner.
Mr. Edwards, who has said his candidacy cannot be successful without a strong performance in Iowa, said the four states chosen by the national committee “need to be first because in these states ideas count, not just money.” The pledge also could offer a lifeline to his campaign, which could not afford to compete in several states at once.
The three candidates were following the lead of Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Senators Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who signed the pledge Friday. Their candidacies also rely upon finishing strong in the early states.
Pledge in name only?
The pledge does not apply to fund-raising events, which officials said could provide a loophole for candidates like Mr. Obama, who has held fund-raisers for as little as $25 a person that have doubled as political rallies. Campaign officials said they were awaiting a ruling from the national committee to see what type of appearances — if any — they could make.
Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan said her state’s manufacturing crisis and other issues were more important than the order of the primary calendar. “We expect that all of the Democratic candidates for president will be on the ballot in Michigan on January 15th,” Ms. Granholm said. “We hope that every candidate will campaign here.”
Even though the candidates signed a written document, the practicality of the pledge remained an open question, particularly given that a Democratic forum is scheduled next Sunday in Miami and candidates already have events on their schedules for the coming weeks and months. Democratic officials in Florida said they were assessing the implications of the pledge.
“No matter which cards we’re dealt, Florida Democrats are going to win the state’s 27 electoral votes and elect a Democratic president in 2008,” said Leonard Joseph, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.