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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Push For Regional Primaries

This item is crossposted from ProgressiveFix.com.
A recent report from a “Democratic Change Commission” authorized by the last national convention to look at the presidential nominating system mainly got attention for its predictable recommendation that “superdelegates” lose their independent voting power. The “supers” will still get convention seats and votes, but said votes will be allocated according to primary or caucus results in their home states (which could make the DC primary of greater-than-usual interest).
A second Change Commission recommendation got a bit of attention: another in a long series of efforts to reduce “front-loading” of the nominating process by pushing the “windows” for allowable primaries and caucuses forward a month (the Commission did not, however, tamper with the two-tiered process by which four states—IA, NV, NH and SC—get their own early “window”).
But virtually no one was aware of a third recommendation, until yesterday, when 538.com’s Tom Schaller interviewed Change Commission member (and 2008 “delegate guru” for the Obama campaign) Jeff Berman. According to Berman, the commission is encouraging the party to award bonus convention delegates to states that agree to cooperate in regional primary/caucus “clusters.” Regional primaries, long a favorite idea of critics of the current system, are relatively efficient ways of enabling candidates to compete for significant delegate counts, particularly when contrasted with the high costs and sheer madness of big, scattered national “clusters” like Super Tuesday, or the inefficiency of dozens of individual contests.
The big questions, of course, are (1) whether the party chooses to make the “bonuses” large enough to actually encourage states to participate in regional primaries, and (2) whether there’s a parallel movement by Republicans, since many states require both parties to hold nominating events on the same day. On this latter point, it’s probably an ideal time for Democrats to make changes in the nominating system, as nobody much expects a challenge to President Obama in 2012. But with Republicans anticipating a wide-open nomination contest, any changes in the system will be scrutinized minutely for their possible impact on particular candidates.
I would argue that a direct assault on the “right” of states to control the presidential nominating process is the only way to ensure major reforms. But barring that, the carrots-and-sticks approach of the Change Commission is perhaps the best available avenue for reform. And there’s no time like the present to undertake it.

One comment on “A Push For Regional Primaries

  1. ducdebrabant on

    I”m sorry about the reaction against superdelegates, which is really overblown. In 2008, despite all the fooferaw, they ended up voting the way everybody else did, so I really don’t see the problem.
    But I’m just old enough to remember the catastrophic election of 1972, and the reason superdelegate positions were created. The public doesn’t like it when the most eminent, the longest-serving, the wisest, the most committed people are shoved rudely aside by insurgents — their positions disrespected, their service disregarded, their views scorned.
    When the anti-war movement took over the party under McGovern it should have been energizing, but the way the newbies openly despised and denigrated people who’d been dedicated Democrats for decades, doing so much of the heavy lifting, was disgraceful.
    Long-established powerful people can be arrogant, yes, but so can upstarts. Besides, the Democratic Party was not then, and is not now, and is not likely to be tomorrow, a mirror of the top-down hierarchical conservative movement, with its dittoheads and astroturfers. We’re just not in danger of that.
    The spectacle of Hubert Humphrey, civil rights hero, father of Medicare, being spoken of so vilely and treated with such disrespect was shocking.
    McGovern’s supporters often treated unsympathetic governors and members of Congress as enemies of humanity. That part of humanity that voted for these men and women didn’t always appreciate it. A lot of Americans felt that, when you wipe your ass with a Senator millions of them voted for, you were wiping your ass with millions of voters.
    You never want the party to look extreme, unmoored or crazy. You never want it to look too radical or too reckless. The McGovern delegates made it possible for Nixon to portray McGovern credibly as a radical.
    The embrace of Jimmy Carter, an outsider, by established Democrats in 1976; the embrace of Barack Obama, an outsider, by established Democrats in 2008: this armored both candidates against the skepticism Americans naturally have toward disruptive change.
    The superdelegates were meant to be a brake on a runaway party, yes. If the party is very closely divided, why shouldn’t its elected leaders, its elders and its most distinguished voices not be able to keep it from going off a cliff?
    But they were also to keep the party anchored publicly, visibly, to its living traditions, and respectful of its most distinguished members. The position of superdelegate was meant to be an honor. In 2008 the Obama rank-and-file (worried they’d side with Hillary) came very, very close to publicly dishonoring anybody with a superdelegate role. That would have been a big mistake.
    It’s great when a 20 year old gets deeply involved, or when a forty year old who has never deigned to become involved suddenly chooses to do so, but neither person should consider himself superior to the one who has been toiling in the trenches for forty years and been instrumental in some of the party’s greatest successes.
    The McGovern delegates, many of them, had done nothing for the party up to that point (and would end up doing little of value for it in 1972 either) yet their arrogance and self-righteousness was often breathtaking. One reason we won in 2008 was that, not only did Obama bring new people into the party, but it was not done in such a way that it completely up-ended the party.
    The party that year wasn’t simply taken away from everybody who wasn’t an Obama Democrat. It wasn’t re-organized in such a way as to heap scorn on all who came before. People weren’t thrown out of positions for being the wrong gender or the wrong color.
    That’s what happened under McGovern, alas. So I’ll be really sorry if we gut the reforms (and they WERE reforms) that undid some of the institutional damage of the McGovern candidacy.
    Disagree I may with some of the Democratic Leadership Council’s views, but I never disagreed with the idea that the party shouldn’t be an amalgamation of special interest caucuses (which is what the McGovern people turned it into).
    The proof of this wisdom was our comeback in 1976 after the disaster of 1972. I wish we wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater all over again.

    Reply

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