What's more important, playing by the rules or winning?
The 2008 presidential campaign is about to test the candidates on just that.
Three Democratic candidates today signed a pledge not to campaign in any states that schedule early primaries in violation of national party rules. Signing the pledge: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
They agreed to follow the Democratic National Committee rules setting the primary calendar thus: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Then, party rules allow any state to vote starting on Feb. 5.
The Republican National Committee set Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to vote before Feb. 5.
But Florida wouldn't go along, and moved its primary to Jan. 29. Michigan's legislature voted this week to move its primary to Jan. 15.
The parties want the candidates to play by the rules. They want the candidates not to campaign in those states.
Three have agreed.
"This process is completely out of control and only an agreement by the candidates can restore sanity," Richardson said Friday.
"I hope no candidate tries to manipulate this situation for his or her own purposes. The DNC rules were established for a purpose - to allow retail campaigning in a few early states and choose those states based on geographic and demographic diversity. Each candidate for president should do whatever possible to preserve the established rules. Anarchy in the nominating process does nothing to further the cause of changing America."
The pledge he circulated says:
WHEREAS, over a year ago, the Democratic National Committee established a 2008 nominating calendar;
WHEREAS, this calendar honors the racial, ethnic, economic and geographic diversity of our party and our country;
WHEREAS, the DNC also honored the traditional role of retail politics early in the nominating process, to ensure that money alone will not determine our presidential nominee;
WHEREAS, it is the desire of Presidential campaigns, the DNC, the states and the American people to bring finality, predictability and common sense to the nominating calendar.
THEREFORE, I pledge I shall not campaign or participate in any state which schedules a presidential election primary or caucus before Feb. 5, 2008, except for the states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as "campaigning" is defined by the rules and regulations of the DNC. It does not include activities specifically related to raising campaign resources such as fundraising events or the hiring of fundraising staff.
Biden quickly agreed.
"It is time to end all the maneuvering around the dates of the early primaries and caucuses. We intend not only to sign the pledge, but to honor our pledge to Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina to respect their primacy to the process," said Biden campaign manager Luis Navarro.
"They played by the rules of the DNC. We respect those rules. The public despises this kind of maneuvering for political advantage. If the Republicans want to play this way, let them. But we will not be a party to it."
Dodd also signed.
"I believe that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada offer a cross section of America and allow for voters to probe the experience and vision of candidates in a meaningful way," Dodd said.
"In this year, where the national media focus seems to be on celebrity and bank accounts, the role of these states is more important than ever. I am committed to the DNC nominating calendar and preserving the first in the nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire."
None of the other candidates have yet agreed to stay away from rogue states, regardless of what their party rules say.
They all want to win such big, delegate-rich states as Florida and Michigan and hope to find a way to do it without offending voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
And most assume that if they do win their party's nomination, they will control their national conventions next summer. That's when those who violate the rules would be punished - or when the winning candidate could simply change the rules.