The DNC got the primary schedule wrong
by PsiFighter37, Sat Aug 19, 2006 at 06:34:09 PM EDT
In an earlier post on the issue of the Democratic Party's potential changes to the primary calendar in 2008, I had supported the changes. I remember how Howard Dean, my favored candidate in 2004, sank like a stone after his dismal 3rd-place showing in the Iowa caucus. As I became more involved in politics, I thought that Iowa and New Hampshire had a disproportionate influence in the nomination process. I commented as such a couple months ago:
This is a good step forward for our nomination process. Even though the small size of Iowa and New Hampshire allow for true retail politics, and both are swing states in this day and age, they simply aren't representative of the demographics of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, just how important is retail politics? In local races, I think that retail politics is an absolute must; however, in the race for president, most people won't even get to see the candidates in person, much less interact with them on a personal level. Frankly, most politicians are going to come off as nice guys (or women) when you speak to them up-close.
Today, the changes I was speaking about earlier came into effect. By a voice vote, a new schedule for the 2008 primary was approved. The plan calls for Nevada - a state with a large labor base and a sizeable Hispanic minority - to hold a caucus between Iowa's caucus and New Hampshire's primary. South Carolina will also hold the first primary after New Hampshire, as soon as a week after the Granite State. While I was initially enthusiastic about such changes, I think that the DNC knows there is a problem with the nomination calendar - but after giving the matter some thought, they have made the matter worse instead of better.
The politicians at today's DNC meeting who opposed the changes had various reasons for doing so.
New Hampshire objected loudly to the lineup and has threatened to leapfrog over the other contests to retain its pre-eminent role.
Eager to avoid such a rebellion, Democrats also adopted sanctions to penalize presidential candidates who campaign in states that cut in line by denying them delegates from those contests.
But party officials acknowledged the effort was a gamble. Candidates eager to curry favor with Democrats in the early states could simply ignore the sanctions, particularly if the states jumping ahead are small and have few delegates to offer.
Brewer said he agreed the schedule needed change, but argued the new lineup ignored the populous and union heavy industrial rust belt.
Most of these objections are mostly nonsense. New Hampshire's cherished 'first-in-the-nation' primary is merely a reaction to the sense of entitlement the state feels it should have. The prospect of states simply ignoring the rules and changing their dates would further exacerbate the main problem, which I'll elaborate on below. The argument for holding a primary in a Rust Belt state is a good one, but in the end, I don't feel like the problem with the primary schedule comes down to one of demographics, even though I believed that to be so before. While it is something that might need to be changed, I don't believe that should be a top priority.
Instead, the problem, I feel, lies in the unbelievable front-loading that such a schedule creates. In the AP article, such concerns are commented upon:
Opponents complain that adding contests in Nevada and South Carolina crowds the early stages of the nomination process and the party's nominee could be determined by the beginning of February, before most states even get a chance to vote.
Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, said the proposed schedule would make Iowa's influence even more disproportionate.
"If there was a big stretch between the caucuses and New Hampshire, you have time to recover from a stumble and, if you do well, you have time to show some real weaknesses further down the road," he said.
To me, this is the biggest problem with the new schedule. You have four races in the time period of two weeks. Markos did an examination of the effect that Kerry's Iowa win had on his poll numbers - they shot through the roof in New Hampshire, erasing a once-solid margin that Dean had held. Kerry won New Hampshire, and the rest is history - despite losing a couple of primaries due to the regional influences of other candidates (Clark in Oklahoma, Edwards in South Carolina), he essentially had the nomination locked up in 3 weeks, as his two initial victories snowballed into additional wins in primaries the following week. If you look at the 2004 primary calendar, you can see how front-loaded the schedule was - Super Tuesday was essentially a civic exercise in voting that had no real effect on eventual outcome.
In a Brookings Institution panel voiced similar concerns about the front-loading of the primary schedule:
Mayer worries that front-loading was diluting the democratic process. "It greatly condenses the time that voters have to learn about the candidates and make their decisions," he said. "Most Americans don't really start paying attention to the nomination race until the delegates are already selected?.By the time the nominee is chosen, voters still won't have any idea of who they are or who the defeated candidates are."
Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College and a visiting fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings, agreed, saying "we have a process now that--in the best case--will disenfranchise the voters in at least a third of the states because the die is already cast before they go to the polls."
They attributed the reason for condensing the schedule due to 'New Hampshire envy' - other states want to have the attention (and perhaps the economic benefits) that Iowa and New Hampshire enjoy as the first caucus and primary in the nation, respectively. Other states may be jealous, but in 2004, they certainly didn't do anything aside from validate Kerry's early victories in 2004 without much real thought. While one could argue that it put primary participation in several states just below or above previous participation records in the Democratic primary, there's no denying that the effect of states that voted later was severely diminished by throwing up so many primaries early on.
To evaluate what happened in 2004, I looked at the 1992 primaries, the last time there was a truly competitive Democratic presidential primary (Clinton ran for re-election in 1996, and Gore was the de facto nominee in 2000 as the incumbent VP). In examining that year's primary calendar, one will notice that there was a three-week period between Iowa and a primary date that had multiple states voting at the same time - and it was only 5 states at that, compared to the 7 states in 2004. It's true that some regional influences must be accounted for in 1992: Senator Tom Harkin won Iowa on the strength of living there, and former senator Paul Tsongas, who won the New Hampshire primary, resided in Massachusetts. Then-Senator Bob Kerrey had a base of support in Nebraska that probably influenced next-door South Dakota. However, it wasn't until Clinton had a string of victories on Super Tuesday - one month after the Iowa caucuses - that a clear front-runner was established. On the other hand, after Kerry won New Hampshire, he was widely accepted as the front-runner, a notion that was cemented by his victories on February 3, 2004 - a mere one week after his win in the Northeast.
I don't dispute the claims that Iowa and New Hamsphire are not representative of the Democratic Party. The right-wing reasoning on our primary changes, which hints at thinly veiled racism, isn't the true problem with our party, which is that we need to focus on winning back white voters at the expense of minorities. Instead, we need a primary schedule that is more drawn out and allows for Democrats in many different states take a good look at all of our nominees and determine who they think the best one is. One of the arguments for front-loading in 2004 was that by determining our nominee earlier, we would unite behind one candidate quickly and would be at less of a disadvantage when it came to fundraising. In 2008, it will be a free-for-all on both sides, as Bush cannot run again and Cheney has shown no inclination to run for the top spot. We needed changes in the 2008 calendar, to be sure. I wouldn't have any problem putting Nevada and South Carolina a couple weeks after New Hampshire - but to bunch them together in a 2-week timespan may force our voters to make a hurried choice for our next nominee - and it may not be the best choice.