Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 3, 2007

Senseless Super Tuesday

Dick Morris (courtesy of RealClearPolitics) correctly points out that the increasingly front-loaded primary schedule has made early fundraising the single most important factor in determining the 2008 presidential nominees. It now looks as if we might have as many as two dozen states holding primaries next February 5th, right on the heels of the New Hampshire primary. The result, Morris observes, is effectively a national primary that can be contested only with a massive TV ad campaign. This means that any candidate without a sufficient war chest by this November will be ill-equipped to compete in the super-sized Tuesday in early February.

Front-loading of primaries has been going on for many years as state parties have realized that it is better to be early than to spend money on what will be an irrelevant primary in April or May. What will be new in the 2008 system is the elimination of momentum, the most exciting feature of American primary politics. In past years, a decisive win or even an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa or New Hampshire could electrify a campaign and fuel fundraising. But in 2008 there simply won’t be enough time for a candidate to build on Iowa and New Hampshire successes.

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Dick Morris (courtesy of RealClearPolitics) correctly points out that the increasingly front-loaded primary schedule has made early fundraising the single most important factor in determining the 2008 presidential nominees. It now looks as if we might have as many as two dozen states holding primaries next February 5th, right on the heels of the New Hampshire primary. The result, Morris observes, is effectively a national primary that can be contested only with a massive TV ad campaign. This means that any candidate without a sufficient war chest by this November will be ill-equipped to compete in the super-sized Tuesday in early February.

Front-loading of primaries has been going on for many years as state parties have realized that it is better to be early than to spend money on what will be an irrelevant primary in April or May. What will be new in the 2008 system is the elimination of momentum, the most exciting feature of American primary politics. In past years, a decisive win or even an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa or New Hampshire could electrify a campaign and fuel fundraising. But in 2008 there simply won’t be enough time for a candidate to build on Iowa and New Hampshire successes.

Many have argued that a national primary is long overdue, a single event that finally takes away the disproportionate influence that Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have on the presidential selection process. I think a much better system would be a series of regional primaries stretched out over months. Once every part of the country had had its turn to poke, prod, and pester the candidates, Texas, Florida, California, and New York could hold a real Super Tuesday in June.

The national and state Democratic and Republican parties operate under the false belief that it is better to get the nominee chosen quickly. But recent history suggests that protracted primary battles are a healthy vetting process, often making candidates more fit for the national campaign. Unfortunately, as long as the party poobahs remain self-interested and parochial, the chance of having a more vibrant, meaningful primary seems faint.

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