WASHINGTON (CNN) – Representatives from some of the top 2008 GOP presidential campaigns gathered in Washington, D.C. Thursday to urge the Republican National Committee to lock in a 2012 primary calendar as early as possible to avoid the confusion that dogged the early stages of last year's nomination contest. One campaign manager took his recommendations a step further and suggested ending the traditional first-in-the-nation statuses of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
An RNC panel headed by party chairman Michael Steele invited the campaigns to share their views as it considers numerous possible changes to the process the party will use to nominate a candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.
Mike DuHaime, the 2008 campaign manager for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told the panel that the three early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina should continue to hold contests early in the process, but not necessarily as the first three contests.
"I believe there needs to be greater decision-making authority given to states beyond the early states," said DuHaime, referring to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. "If you win two out of three states, those have been our nominees. With that, 47 other states don't have the same say."
"I think that is ultimately not in the best interests of the party," he added.
DuHaime went on to say that the early phase of the nomination calendar should be more geographically and ethnically diverse and that doing so could make the party more competitive in general elections.
DuHaime's candidate did not campaign heavily in the early states and instead focused his time and energy on later contests.
Former Huckabee presidential campaign manager Chip Saltsman, whose candidate won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, defended the role of the traditional early states.
"I think it's very important and crucial to have Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina early on in the process," he said.
Saltsman said that he has seen during his experiences in Iowa from previous campaigns "just how seriously folks in those states take the process. Not that the other 47 states don't. It's an opportunity for any candidate, no matter how rich, no matter how poor, no matter how new, and no matter who's been running for eight years."
"This is making our candidates better candidates," Saltsman added.
The campaigns all agreed that regardless of what the calendar eventually looks like, it will be important to lock in the schedule early so that candidates can plan and strategize accordingly. In 2008, both the Republican and Democratic primary calendars were thrown into disarray when Michigan and Florida moved their contests earlier in the process to challenge the early positioning of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
"This is something that I don't know if there's a perfect solution, but there needs to be a solution," said Saltsman. "Set the rules. Set them fair. Let [the presidential campaigns] know what they are. And set them in a way that don't change."
Beth Myers, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's 2008 campaign manager, echoed a similar sentiment.
"I am of the belief that a campaign can plan for any calendar, but that certainty is what matters," she said in a written statement submitted to the panel. "In other words, my primary recommendation would be that the calendar is set as early as possible so that it is known by all campaigns."
Myers did not address the politically sensitive issue of whether Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina should remain as the first contests, but she did suggest a later start for the primary season, which began on January 3 in 2008, the earliest start of any presidential primary season in history.
"The one complaint we heard more than any other was that it started too close to the holidays," she said. "I would urge you to mandate a start in late February or early March."
Saltzman suggested late January as a starting point.
The RNC invited all the 2008 GOP presidential campaigns to provide feedback for Thursday's forum. The Huckabee, Giuliani and Duncan Hunter campaigns sent representatives to testify in person. The Romney, Ron Paul and Fred Thompson campaigns submitted written statements. The remainder of the 2008 GOP field, including the campaign of Sen. John McCain, did not respond to the invitation.
The RNC is expected to finalize its rules governing the nomination process at its summer meeting next year.