Front-loaded primaries

Published 11:41 pm Monday, September 10, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal.)
It’s not often that we get the chance to give big attaboys and attagirls to the two national political parties, but when it comes to their united stand on early primaries the applause is well deserved.
The Republican National Committee is threatening sanctions against those states that break the party’s official primary calendar. The Democratic National Committee was equally tough with its schedule-jumpers last month.
The states have two incentives to move their primaries forward. The first is the opportunity to have greater influence in choosing the nominees. The second is to draw the presidential campaigns to their states, and with them their considerable spending.
For decades, critics nationally have complained about the important role that Iowa and New Hampshire play in the nominating process. By going first with its caucuses, Iowa sets the stage for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. After those two votes, the field is usually winnowed down. That’s why the candidates put so much importance on, and so many resources into, these two states.
Other states argue that Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the nation as a whole. Two heavily rural, mostly white, small-population states should not have so much influence, the critics say.
The two parties have tried repeatedly to address the problems with the current system without destroying the advantages that Iowa and New Hampshire bring to the selection process. Both states are well-rehearsed in the process, and their voters pay great attention. In addition, because the states are small, they offer the opportunity for the less wealthy candidates to make their cases and, quite possibly, get noticed.
But the best-laid plans of the two parties are being subverted by individual state legislatures. They’ve now front-loaded the schedule so heavily that it is very possible that we will know the eventual nominees by early February, a full 10 months before the general election.
To make matters worse, some states are trying to jump ahead of even that schedule. In turn, Iowa and New Hampshire will move their dates ahead. Now there is talk of Iowa caucuses being conducted during the Christmas holidays.
This is not good for the country. The system would work better if the whole schedule were pushed back a few months and the state votes were spread over several months. That would give voters in various states a chance to see how the race unfolded and how the candidates performed.
The parties both understand this, and their commitment to disciplining the quick-start states is commendable. The first votes should not compete with the Christmas holidays.