Earlier this week, the Democratic National Committee's Change Commission -- tasked with cleaning up the remnants of the Great Nomination Calendar Debacle Of 2008 -- laid down some markers for the future. If -- and it's a big if -- these changes stick -- and we're a long ways away from that, because the Democratic Party is anything but a dictatorship -- the 2016 primaries could be rather different in pace than the 2008 primaries. (I'm assuming here that Howard Dean doesn't mount a credible primary challenge to Barack Obama in 2012. Then again, I did not know who Scott Brown was in mid-December.)
These calendar commissions are always backward-looking under the guise of being looking forward. And they're always influenced by the prerogatives of the leading Democrats at the time. Superdelegates were useful when activists threatened to take control of the party; Barack Obama specifically disdained superdelegate collection and now wants to do away with them. This would be the biggest change, as it would significantly aid candidates who have the capacity and the money to win large primaries -- self funders? -- and it would do away with the journo-metaphorical concept of the Establishment Candidate, since the establishment wouldn't really get any votes. (Or would they? Wouldn't labor, for example, find some other way to make sure that they maintain their influence?)
Also: the folks who used to get superdelegate status would lose their ability to choose their own candidate, but not the perks associated with being a superdelegate. They'd be allocated based on vote percentages in states. Many superdelegates -- scared sheep who follow the herd -- would be most grateful at not having to actually make a choice between people who might control what they get to do during the next administration.
The commission wants to change the pre-window period -- the confusing name for the space of time within which Iowa, New Hampshire South Carolina and Nevada conduct their contests -- to begin in February. The "window" itself would open in March. The commission also "suggests an incentive system to encourage states to regionally cluster their contests and/or hold their contests later in the nominating calendar so as to avoid frontloading in the calendar."
Behind the scenes, the DNC and the RNC's respective rules committees (the Dems calls theirs the "Rules and Bylaws Committee") are going to try and work together to make sure that the window for both parties starts at the same time. That would potentially provide a deterrent for those states that decide to go early. But, really, absent enforcement mechanisms -- the DNC has some, the RNC's are much weaker -- eager-beaver states are still going to be a problem for party leaders in future cycles.