[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/26/art.clyburn1026.cnn.jpg caption="Clyburn said the presidential nominating process needs to be 'improved'."]
Washington (CNN) – National Democrats are considering changing the presidential nominating process, by establishing a new primary calendar and deemphasizing the influence lawmakers and political insiders have on choosing the party nominee.
The battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination was marred by controversy as the Democratic National Committee argued with some state parties over when they could hold their primaries and caucuses and candidates were forced to take sides in this important internal party dispute.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, said that the 2008 nomination contest "yielded a great candidate," but readily acknowledged the problems that arose.
"We need to improve a little bit in spite of the fact that we got a great candidate out of the process," Clyburn said Saturday at a meeting of a DNC working group tasked with drafting a new plan. "It was not very comfortable at various points along the way."
Democrats see an opening to change the system now, because this is "a rare cycle of no apparent Democratic presidential nomination challenge" in 2012 as President Obama is expected to seek a second term, according to the "Draft Report of the Democratic Change Commission," discussed at the meeting.
Commission members, who range from lawmakers and grassroots activists to President Obama's campaign manager, are charged with putting forth recommendations to help expand the Democratic base and increase more ethnic and regional diversity in choosing the party's presidential nominee in 2016 and beyond, assuming Obama seeks a second term.
A commission suggestion would be to allow the first four states that held nominating contests in the January 2008 maintain their early, privileged calendar positions. But these states - Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina - would be directed to delay holding their caucuses and primaries before February 1. All other states would be forbidden from holding their nominating contests until at least the first Tuesday in March.
Another recommendation in the report suggested grouping states by "region or sub-region."
"This would not be a mandatory obligation upon the state parties," the commission stated. "The commission recommends that these clusters be staggered throughout the window to allow for a deliberative process that benefits all voters and caucus-goers through the country."
States parties that abided by the DNC's calendar would be rewarded by getting special perks at the national nominating convention.
The commission also discussed how to reduce the influence of unpledged delegates – lawmakers and party insiders also know as superdelegates – who played a big role in the 2008 nomination contest.
"Unpledged delegates constituted 19% of the total convention and the presidential candidates were compelled to spend a substantial amount of candidate time and other resources to seek the support of these automatic delegates," the commission stated. "We learned that in a closely contested presidential race, the nomination could be decided by this category of delegates."
No formal solution dealing with superdelegates was arrived at Saturday and the commission will draft a plan to reduce their numbers in the coming weeks.
"The DNC must address the perception that there are too many unpledged delegates and those delegates could potentially overturn the will of the people, as determined by the state contests," the commission stated.
The commission is expected to vote on its final recommendations before December 18. The recommendations will then be sent to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee for further debate and discussion.
Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said he had no problem with reducing the number of superdelegates as long as state party chairs and vice chairs maintained their status and party leaders continued to play a role at the conventions.
But Brewer took exception to the idea of allowing four states to be granted a special exemption to hold their primaries before other states.
"From the perspective of Michigan and other states, it is unfair that any state have a permanent place at the top of the process," said Brewer, who attended the meeting but is not a commission member. "It is unfair to give any states or state a monopoly."
The Republican National Committee is also looking at how its party chooses its presidential nominee, and the DNC expressed interest Saturday in working with its political rival on a nomination calendar.