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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The First Domino Falls

It’s been apparent for a good while that the Florida legislature’s decision earlier this year to move its 2008 primary date to January 29 would likely set off a domino-effect series of changes in the nominating calendar. Well, the first domino will fall today, according to The Washington Post, which is reporting that the South Carolina Republican Party will announce it has moved its primary to January 19.
Under New Hampshire state law, its Secretary of State is not only authorized but required to ensure that the Granite State’s primary is at least a week before any others. And Iowa state law requires that its caucuses be held at least eight days prior to the first primary.
Assuming NH wants to stick to its ancient tradition of voting on a Tuesday, the SC decision basically forces NH to move to January 8 at the latest. Count back eight days from that, and you have Iowa caucusing on December 31, 2007, which isn’t terribly likely. So the best guess is that Iowa would move to a date prior to Christmas. (On the other hand, as David Yepsen, Iowa’s top political reporter, notes today, there’s some legal precedent for the parties being able to preempt state law and hold the caucuses less than eight days prior to NH, avoiding the December scenario. But the decision will be fraught with controversy, and could also produce different caucus dates for the two parties.)
What does all this mean in terms of the 2008 presidential election? It will almost certainly create the longest general election campaign in living memory (unless, as a few observers think, the heavy concentration of early primaries creates the first contested convention since 1976). Beyond that, the consequences really depend on whether you believe the current calendar magnifies or reduces the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire. Either way, expect the calendar craziness to lead to a lot of talk about comprehensively reforming the nominating process prior to 2012.

One comment on “The First Domino Falls

  1. Albert Whited on

    “reforming the nominating process” – I think we’d be much better served by having a single national primary election day (or week) sometime in the late Spring.
    Ostensibly, the need for staggered primaries arose in the days when the candidates had to move from stump to stump by horse–real or iron. And with no telemedia, that was the only way for voters to see and hear the candidates and their positions. Natural newspaper bias could never effectively provide a mass media coverage sufficient for all voters to trust. The candidates HAD to move around the country and speak to the people face-to-face; and that took time.
    A protracted primary season also gave the nation time to vet the candidates and their positions, particularly through a series of debates. Again, this needed to play out on many stages in front of the voters.
    Now though, the primary stumping begins 18 months or so before the convention. The candidates are well known via the telemedia to most if not all voters by six months into the marathon. Vetting is happening constantly, both through a blossoming of alternative media journals and the ability to stage debate after debate to a national audience. Simply put, there is no need to stagger primary elections any more. To do so is a relic of a by-gone age.
    The process into which the primary season now has morphed is really an exercise in individual state influence and power. As has been noted here, no eventual nominee in recent memory has failed to win either IA or NH. Those states’ constitutional mandates for pride of place is a testament to that fact. They will not cede their disproportionate influence over the electoral process. They permit an undue power over the nomination process to those with the resources to swamp their states with appearances, mass media spots, and campaign apparati. Nor is this fact lost on other states, evidenced by their current scramble for position in the order of the primary sequence to achieve relevancy at least and reserve a share of influence over nomination to themselvs.
    Like the general election, shouldn’t all voters in a primary enjoy the same measure of influence over selecting the nominee? Claims that IA and NH are somehow representative of the rest of us are really naive, since the correlation of IA and NH voters’ decisions to the final nomination at the convention, in fact, depends on the results in IA and NH. Of course an outcome will correlate well with its dependent variables.
    Moreover, by actually recognizing and using effectively the technology now available to and pervasive among us, we can balance, shorten, and diminish the campaign donation influence in the primary process. I think we will end with nominees more aligned with the mainstream of their respective parties and we will have much more relevant primary elections in all states. The question we must ask ourselves is: what exactly is being protected by preserving the antiquated system?


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