22 January 2008

The worst of both worlds

Before it gets too far away from me, I want to point out John Nichols' cover piece in The Nation a couple of weeks ago about our broken, anti-democratic primary system (also in case anyone thought writing about the primaries as they are constitutes any kind of endorsement of the process itself.)

I've tentatively supported a "national primary" as an alternative to the current system, but Nichols' article points out an important flaw in that idea. A national primary would likely be decided by the candidate who can afford to blanket the country with the most ads, making our present "money primary" situation even worse. We are already seeing this with our upcoming miniature version of a national primary on February 5. The advantage of "out front" primaries in small states is in giving lesser-known candidates with not a lot of cash the chance to get a boost in national exposure by zeroing in on a focused population.

The current primary system manages remarkably to capture the worst of both worlds. Iowa and New Hampshire have a permanent place at the top of the primary slate giving them undue influence over the eventual nominee. And, since the candidates have spent most of their political, financial, and temporal capital in those states, the "Super Tuesday" mini-nationals are decided by a national ad blitz. The best solution, without publicly financed campaigns, may be "rotating regional" primaries, a month-long campaign of evenly-distributed elections, with a rotating cycle of states sharing the "Iowa/New Hampshire" role.

Like the electoral college, the primary system is disliked much more by states getting left behind than by the national party. I often feel the primacy of overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire is enjoyed particularly by the national Democrats because of their natural inclination to select the most conservative Dem candidate. There won't be enough fainting couches in Washington to hold everyone on the day Oregon or Vermont gets first crack. Indeed, only one of the contested upfront primary states has gone to a Democrat in the past two presidential elections (New Hampshire 2004). If the Republicans get South Carolina, the Democrats should at least get Wisconsin.