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Friday, August 03, 2007

Fixing the Presidential Primaries (Part 2)

Darren and I went back and forth on the presidential primary system. Yesterday was Part 1, here is Part 2. Darren's in blue, I'm in red.


Darren: I would not make a case for a national primary system for the reasons you soundly outlined. I would if candidates were granted a minimum of ad time in all districts. I would also like to set some limitations on campaign spending, but then we get into the tricky issue of free speech. So, to answer your question, I am not advocating for a national primary.

I also agree with the problem of Iowa and NH having too much influence over the candidates' policies. Candidates have to pander to the most important issues in those two states to even have a chance on the national stage; corn and taxes. It doesn't seem fair to the rest of the voting public for the politicians to alter their messages based on sample populations.

In order to create an environment where the candidates can be more open with the public about their issues, I suggest a rotating regional primary system composed of 5 or 6 (or more) regions. This would allow candidates to speak to a broader public about issues they want to focus on, not on issues that will only get them votes.

Thoughts? Criticisms?


Ian: We're close. I don't think having Iowa then New Hampshire then South Carolina was 100% ineffective. Let's not forget what that system did bring the table: A) Under-funded candidates had an opportunity to compete and B) Uber-funded must still meet with John Q. Farmer and Stephen C. Wageworker, or else risk losing to said under-funded candidates.

To break the country into six voting regions would halfway solve each problem we've discussed, but also ensure that each of the problems remain. An under-funded candidate, though not as much as in a national primary, would still get killed in ad-buys across a region and numerous television stations. And an uber-funded candidate, while not having the complete ability to sit back and let money do the talking on the airways across an entire nation, would still be able to target several big cities in these regions as they come up and wipe out the little guys.

(Besides, who's not to say Iowa actually does speak for the midwest farmers and New Hampshire does speak for the Northeast liberals and South Carolina does speak for the southern conservatives? Are not those constituencies getting say through one of their representative states? Are not candidates having to speak to the issues of that entire region when they go to those singular states?)

Therefore, again, we halfway solve those problems, but each of those problems halfway remain. So what's my solution?

We rotate the early primary states. My suggestion would be rotating five different opening states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Oregon, and New Mexico. Tradition is kept with the front three. All regions are represented. None of the states are too big. Most importantly, this is rotated, so one state cannot keep its political influence. Therefore, in 2008, Iowa is first. In 2012, New Hampshire is first and Iowa fifth. In 2016, South Carolina is first, New Hampshire is bumped to the end. And so on. I think in twenty years, after the shock of Iowa and New Hampshire not always being first is worn off, we can choose five new states and redo the process for the next twenty years.

I have more thoughts on restructuring the primary process, but I'll stop here. What do you think?



D: All great points. Underfunded candidates still struggle in the current primary system so, to me, that point is moot. Even if they do do well in the primaries, the uber-funded candidates have the means to increase their ad volume in order to win that states' primary. You could also argue that the underfunded candidates are underfunded for a reason - because not enough of the public supports his or her message or platform. Personally, I feel this is due more to media coverage than anything else but that can lead us into a whole other topic.

My central problem with the primary system is not with letting individual states have primary votes, but with the influence that the populaces of those states have over the candidate. Why do we have a system where Iowa votes, then New Hampshire, then South Carolina, then we have Super Tuesday?

I like the idea of having a rotating state primary system, but I'm still skeptical having the population of one state influence a candidate's platform/message so overwhelmingly. Splitting the country up into regions/partitions would alleviate that influence, but as you said, it would also alienate under-funded candidates. As I mentioned before, this speaks more to the media's role in the political process, rather than the primary system itself. As you soundly pointed out, John Edwards would be struggling heavily if it were a regional primary system. Why? I think it's got to do more with a female candidate who happens to carry the Clinton surname and an ambitious African-American candidate.

I still think having more than one state vote on the first few primary days would be more beneficial than having single states vote. Splitting the country into regions doesn't necessarily mean that the states have to be bordering or in the near vicinity. Why not have groups of states from all locations of the country vote on the same days and have say 6 or 7 or X number of primary votes, then rotate those groups?


I: The answer to your final question I already addressed: To spread the first primary across a half-dozen states would effectively eliminate all but one or two candidates from contention, evidenced by examples at the end of this section. I understand that it's difficult for the under-funded candidates to contend as it is, but they have a much better chance with a state by state vote than a region by region vote. So to eliminate the power of Iowa and New Hampshire, I propose rotating those early states. Keeping the early state by state system, but eliminating the consistency of the early states. That's the ticket. It addresses your primary problem (influence of early states) because the same state wouldn't be first in the next cycle.

If you'd like, I'll go one step further: The primary schedule will not be decided until, say, one year before the general election. That forces candidates to appeal to the entire country until only two months before the first primary, when they will then scramble to get to that state and woo those voters, but by then, their platform must be solidified. Retail politics survive, with small time candidates having a chance to win over voters, and one or two states don't get too much attention for election cycle after election cycle. This doesn't effect fundraising much, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney or Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich aren't counting on Iowa, Nevada, or New Hampshire for raising the bulk of their funds.

To address one more of your points: You asked (rhetorically, I think) why Edwards wouldn't compete if there were regional primaries or a national primary. Your answer was because of a woman and a black running against her. Does that make them inherently better candidates for the party or for the country's head of state? Of course not! So how is that good for America? Many make the case that the reason big money candidates have big money is because they're the best candidates, but I don't think either one of us believes that.

However, this gets down to the problem at hand. Most candidates who are not yet eliminated under the current system would be under regional primaries or a national primary. This is best evidenced by Bill Clinton, whose second place New Hampshire finish resuscitated an almost dead campaign. A national primary in 1992? Bill Clinton is not the nominee. Regional primaries in 1992? Bill Clinton is not the nominee. (This happens throughout history. Most recently, Howard Dean would have won in 2004, not John Kerry.) And, of course, Clinton went on to be a two-term President who most consider successful, especially his own party, who almost didn't nominate him.



D: I do like your idea about having the rotating state by state primary but have some questions. Who would set up the schedule for the rotating primary system? Would both parties have the same schedule or adhere to completely different ones? I'm not completely sold on your points about underfunded candidates not being able to handle regional primaries. I do understand that it would be more expensive for them, but my main point about that had more to do with the effect of the media influences on the public. Regarding John Edwards, I was not implying that Hilary or Barack were better suited to lead the country, only that the media is choosing to focus more on them because one is a woman and one is black. I don't think you can not argue that the media has played a crucial role in advertising these two candidates. The more that journalists focus on these candidates the more popular they become to the public equating to more support. We know that the candidate with the best ability to lead is not always nominated, as evidenced by the Republican primary votes of 2000 and 2004. Clinton was a great president, but we don't know if Harkin or Tsongas would have been better. It's a truly hypothetical situation. Would Clinton have been better if the Republicans hadn't taken the White House back in 1994?

I still advocate for a national primary, influenced by an article that a friend sent which can be read here. The primary would be national yet it would be based upon proportional support for candidates. Each congressional district would vote for candidates but to offset the bias that has been created by gerrymandering, the two candidates with the most amount of votes in each party would then be nominated as presidential candidates. Why must there only be one candidate from each party? It's a whole new ballgame with four presidential candidates, two each from the major parties vying to be chosen as the president. Again, the presidential election would be held by districts, whereas the candidate with the largest amount of popular support would win the Executive Office. After the election is certified, the President selects his or her Vice President. I understand that this transformation is a radical shift from changing only the primary system, but I feel that overall it would be the most effective at securing the popular vote.


I: Earlier I said, "I have more thoughts on restructuring the primary process, but I'll stop here," and you just asked the questions that allow me to share those thoughts. Who would do the schedule for this primary system? The National Committees. One of my biggest problems with the current set up is that each state gets to decide when their primary is. How long did we expect the larger states to sit back and let Iowa and New Hampshire decide simply because it was tradition? This cycle, twenty states moved up to the first week of February, and Nevada and South Carolina tried to leap frog New Hampshire, so New Hampshire tried to move up, putting it in front if Iowa, which mean Iowa had to move up to stay first. This could very well lead to a December, 2007 primary.

Therefore, there needs to be a centralized decision by a body on what the order will be. The National Committees should supersede all the state parties. Therefore, the DNC should order the Democratic primaries and the RNC the Republican primaries. To answer your second question: the two committees can absolutely make different primary schedules. Of course, there will need to be rules, such as the home state of a candidate cannot be before Super Tuesday, as well as the most populous states should be barred from being before Super Tuesday. With a centralized "decider" in place, my rotating state system can work.

The proposal outline in your last paragraph, though being a completely unrealistic shift from the norm, is worthy of consideration. I don't think all of the possible detrimental consequences have been accounted for. I'll chew it over for a while and we'll revisit it some other time.

Thanks for reading.

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