A primary problem


There might be a regional solution to the primary arms race.

Our democracy has undergone a seismic shift in the way that we choose our presidents over the last months. Some of the biggest states – like Texas, New York and California – have been moving their primaries up, lusting after the limelight and influence that an early primary or caucus has brought to states like Iowa and New Hampshire. The result is a hyper-accelerated schedule that compresses all meaningful voting into January and early February of 2008. Front-loading the primary schedule to this degree is essentially an informal constitutional amendment, and it will make it harder for dark-horse candidates with less money or name recognition to have any hope for success in today’s political landscape.

Opinion: A primary problem

While all but the most hopeless political junkies are probably sick of the 2008 presidential campaign already, the primary system is a valuable part of the process. Watching how a candidate runs their campaign usually gives a good indication of how they’ll run their presidency, and until primary votes start being cast, we really don’t know much about how a candidate will conduct themselves under wilting pressure. For example, in 1972, Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine was considered a shoe-in for the nomination, with all the big endorsements and plenty of money. But setbacks led to blowups, and it became apparent to everyone around that Muskie had a temper that made him ill-suited to the presidency. By contrast, Sen. George McGovern was considered a long shot but great organizational skills won him the nomination. Look at 2000 for a more recent example. Then-Governor George W. Bush faced stiff opposition from Sen. John McCain, so Bush’s campaign resorted to suggesting McCain abandoned veterans, and conducted a whisper campaign in South Carolina suggesting that McCain’s adopted daughter was his out-of-wedlock interracial child. Sounds like the politics we’ve come to know from Bush and Co. over the last seven years.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has co-sponsored legislation that would create a rotating regional primary, which would have a different part of the country voting first every four years and spread each region one month apart. The four-region primary solution isn’t perfect, with a quarter of the country voting each time, but it might be the only way to stop the electoral madness and leapfrogging for influence we have going on right now.