Shifting Back the Primaries... Again

09 August 2007

In the race to become the first state to hold presidential primaries, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson (pictured right) now plans to move its Republican primaries ahead of the January 29, 2008 Florida primaries. This, in turn, could cause Iowa to hold its own primaries in late 2007 (only a few months from now).

My friend Mike perfectly highlights the problem here:

"The irony is that with each state fighting with every other state over who gets to be first--and, consequently, the most influential in determining the nomination*--the states are inflicting on themselves a number of harms that far outweigh any benefit they may reap from holding an early primary. First, they are forcing candidates to spread their time out over many states in short periods of time, thereby limiting the candidates' personal access to each state and robbing the states' residents of the ability to evaluate each candidate personally. Second, they force the candidates to engage in bloody and expensive infighting, thus weakening the survivors. Third, they extend significantly the length of the election season, which tires voters and irritates the media. Yes, candidates will be spending more money on television advertisements. But, in order to reduce the influence of money on campaigns, the candidates also receive those advertisements at significantly discounted rates. For every 30-second spot a candidate airs, the station could be running someone else's ad for better money.

Early primaries weaken candidates (and promote weaker candidates), exhaust the electorate, and annoy advertisers. Every state attempting to be the new Iowa is complicit in the race to the bottom. But, like stock traders in the middle of a giant sell off, for any state to oppose the tide would be that state's ruin. The states' self-interest requires them to oppose sensibility. And this is not an issue where the feds can step in and simply take over; elections are run by the individual states.


* I never believed the importance of winning the Iowa caucuses until 2004, when John Kerry came in first and then proceeded to strut his way to the nomination despite being one of the weakest Democrats in the 10-man field. I still don't understand why winning the first primary is so important, but I can now at least recognize it."

And helpfully promotes a solution here:
"The most creative solution I have seen to the dilemma is a system of rotating regional primaries, a proposition which has conveniently resurfaced in today's Times via an op-ed by Bob Graham. The most common argument in opposition to a rotating regional system is that it would arbitrarily anoint a particular portion of the country with oversized importance, but that seems to me a laughable objection considering the current, nonsensically hallowed stature of Iowa and New Hampshire. A better criticism, I think, is that a rotating primary system would create a "right place, right time" sweet spot for politics, giving for example a Florida governor with eyes on higher office his serendipitous time to shine. That is possible. But how many big names have come out of Iowa and New Hampshire, long the gatekeepers of the primary season? Tom Vilsack is going nowhere and I can't even think of anyone from New Hampshire offhand.

Sadly, though, implementation of a rotating regional primary would require rationality and temperance among the states, so it's much more likely that the primary season will remain a mob scene for the foreseeable future."

Thanks, Mike!

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