Democrats shook up tradition by vaulting Nevada and South Carolina into the first wave of 2008 presidential contests along with Iowa and New Hampshire -- a move intended to add racial and geographic diversity to the early voting.
The decision by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Saturday leaves Iowa as the US' first presidential caucus and New Hamp-shire as the first primary, but wedges Nevada's caucuses before New Hampshire and South Caro-lina's primary soon afterward.
The move packs all four state contests into a politically saturated two weeks in January. The change means a potentially huge cast of Democratic presidential candidates could winnow quickly by the beginning of February.
The political parties use stag-gered primary elections to gradually narrow the field of contenders to one nominee for each party ahead of the presidential election.
The states that vote earlier tend to have a bigger impact, since candidates that do not fare well in early primaries usually drop out quickly.
Party officials embraced the change, though New Hampshire Democrats joined several likely presidential candidates and former president Bill Clinton in opposing the move.
"It's an opportunity for the candidates to speak in a broader way to Democrats across the country," said Alexis Herman, co-chairman of the DNC's rules committee that drafted the change.
"It will be a plus for the candidates and I think they will take advantage of i," she said.
Driving the decision to alter the schedule was a long-held worry within the party that Iowa and New Hampshire, which are predominantly white, were not representative of the country's population and key Democratic constituencies.
Blacks and Hispanics have complained they have not had an adequate voice in the early contests.
In choosing to squeeze Nevada caucuses between Iowa's Jan. 14 caucus and New Hampshire's Jan. 22 primary, party leaders kept in mind the state's large Hispanic population as well as its heavy labor union presence.
South Carolina, with its large black population, could hold its primary as early as Jan. 29.
But the primary calendar may not be final.
New Hampshire objected loudly to the lineup and has threatened to leapfrog over the other contests to retain its pre-eminent role.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who led efforts to move his state earlier in the voting, said: "This will be an enormous undertaking, but our state party is up to the challenge."
And South Carolina Democratic Chairman Joe Erwin praised the move, saying: "There's great regional diversity in four events strung out over a period of a couple weeks."
Democrats rejected a proposal that would have boosted the number of convention delegates for states that don't leapfrog into an early position.
Opponents complain that adding contests in Nevada and South Carolina crowds the early stages of the nomination process and the party's nominee could be determined by the beginning of February, before most states even get a chance to vote.
Other Democrats agreed that the schedule needed chang. However, they argued that the selection of Nevada and South Carolina ignored the populous and union heavy industrial rust belt.
"Unless we have a candidate who can win in the industrial states, we can't win the presidency," said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.