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South Carolina Democrats Shaking Cup in D.C.

An A-list of Democratic superstars is slated to appear at a Washington, D.C., hotel tonight for a South Carolina Democratic Party fundraiser expected to generate more than one-third of the party’s tab for its 2008 presidential primary.

“This is the time to raise money,” said Joe Erwin, the South Carolina Democratic chairman. “We are looking to raise about $150,000, which exceeds by a large amount any event held outside of South Carolina.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) and at least three Democratic presidential hopefuls — Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) — are expected to be on hand at tonight’s 2008 South Carolina Presidential Primary Kick-Off Reception at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

Planners say the event will raise money for the party’s share of the Palmetto State’s recently rescheduled 2008 presidential primary — and more. In 2004, the state held its primary in early February. But after extensive lobbying by South Carolina Democrats earlier this year to move up the state’s primary date — to keep pace with state Republicans — the Democratic National Committee handed its state affiliate a Jan. 29 primary date. That’s just days before South Carolina Republicans vote and makes the Palmetto State the fourth winnowing-down contest in the Democratic presidential nominating process, behind Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

“When we have had primaries, we have typically done it early,” said Carol Fowler, vice chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “In 2004, the DNC made it possible to [move the date] a little earlier because in 2000 the Republicans had gone very early.”

Fowler added: “At our pleading, the DNC moved [the primary date this year] because we were trying to keep up with South Carolina Republicans.”

Unlike the other 48 states, the two political parties in South Carolina and Utah are required for presidential primaries to corral their own volunteers and pay municipalities and precincts for the use of voting equipment. But unlike Utah, the state government in South Carolina has not agreed to set aside any money to pay the costs for next year’s primary.

But the parties couldn’t be happier. Along with paying their own way, Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina also are able to determine the dates of their primaries, granting them rare flexibility to fluctuate their primary dates without involving the state Legislature.

“Up until about 1980, political parties in South Carolina put on all the primaries for sheriff, Senate and all of that,” Fowler said. “About 1980, the state took over the funding, control and operation of those other primaries, but the legislation specifically excluded presidential primaries — mainly because of the cost factor.

“The state didn’t want to pay all that money to put on a presidential election and frankly the parties have benefited from not having state control over them,” Fowler continued. “Almost every other state in the union that has a primary for president, the state controls the date of the primary.”

Erwin has told his staff that $350,000 should suffice for equipment rental, poll workers and other related costs for the 2008 presidential primary. In 2004, he said the total costs amounted to about $300,000, a fundraising total that the committee exceeded by more than a factor of two.

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