3/02/2007

Primary Danger

One of the earliest posts I made in The 7-10 was about the presidential nomination process and how the system was broken. (Go read Primarily Stupid if you haven't done so already.) One of my major gripes was about how Iowa and New Hampshire should not be entitled to have the first crack at the candidates cycle after cycle. I even offered a few ideas of ways to improve the system, such as assigning primary order based on the level of voter turnout in the previous presidential election. But that makes too much sense.

Well, it has gotten worse now. Because no state wants to render their contest meaningless, there has been a mad rush to reassign primary dates so that they occur earlier in the process. Illinois wanted to bump up their contest to give Obama an advantage. Then there's word that New Jersey wanted to follow suit, thus giving an advantage to Giuliani. Yes, we are now truly headed for a national primary on February 5.

Political cartoonist Steve Greenberg has a brilliant cartoon illustrating the sheer madness of what is happening.

Dick Morris of The Hill also wrote a good column explaining how this "Big Bang" unfairly disadvantages lesser known and/or poorer financed candidates:

The effect of this gigantic sea change will be that whoever is the frontrunner in each party by the fall of 2007 will be virtually certain to win the nomination because only the frontrunner can possibly hope to amass enough money to compete in half the country at once. Nobody but the likely winner in each party will be able to compete at that level on Feb. 5.

I honestly can't figure out why this system is so broken. Do the voters and primary organizers not understand the perils of this system? John Kerry benefited from a truncated primary schedule in 2004 because he gained so much momentum before voters could have a chance to really evaluate him as a candidate. Voters in the later states just figured that since he had won the earlier states, he was the guy to vote for. So his nomination became an inevitability far too soon and without sufficient prior scrutiny. Would a Gephart or a Clark or a Lieberman have been able to prove himself a more able politician over time?

This system has arguably disadvantaged Republicans as well. McCain had a chance to snatch the nomination from Bush, but the South Carolina primary and the Confederate flag dustup stopped him dead in his tracks. But what if McCain hung in there and the voters in the later states maintained their critical lens. The Confederate flag issue had the ability to allow one candidate to play for the more conservative voters in the Southern states while the other could play for the more moderate voters in the Midwestern and Western states. Voters may have caught a glimpse of Bush's inappropriate smirks and his lack of intellectual curiosity before they put him on the ballot had the process been extended. McCain could have been a more effective president than Bush, given his military experience and actual congressional experience, but now the Republican brand has been damaged by Bush, thus making things more difficult for McCain.

Regarding 2008, what if Hillary and Rudy continue to ride at the top of the polls (which are currently based primarily on name recognition alone) and steamroll everyone to the nomination simply because they were leading in the polls at the time of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries? Democratic voters might lament the fact that they have to deal with Hillary's polarization for 9 more months while Republican voters might find that they can't bear to stomach someone who does not share their ideological views on social issues critical to them. The result of this would likely be a restive and disenchanted electorate that wonders why "the presidential candidates always consist of losers."

It's because only the people with money can afford to compete in Sacramento, Sarasota, and Springfield at the same time. Chris Dodd, Sam Brownback, Mike Gravel, and Tommy Thompson just can't do that.

What's the problem? It's Iowa, New Hampshire, frontloading, and money. It's that simple.

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Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.