FAIR VOTE - When Dick Gephardt eked out a win in the 1988 Iowa caucuses,
no one was under the illusion that the contest for the Democratic
presidential nomination was over. Nor was it over in 1992 when Iowans
chose favorite son Sen. Tom Harkin and Paul Tsongas won in New
Hampshire, both defeating eventual nominee Bill Clinton. John McCain
found that a lopsided New Hampshire win was not enough to survive the
awaiting Bush 2000 machine.
But in 2004, John Kerry went from single digits to a surprise win in
Iowa in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and by the time voters had
rubbed their eyes and refocused, Kerry was already the presumptive
nominee. His Iowa glow carried into a win in New Hampshire, and the
campaign was effectively over long before the alleged "super Tuesday" in
Presidential primaries ideally are a national vetting process in which
voters within the parties can take a careful look at their potential
standard bearers via speeches, debates, and personal interaction. They
want a good sense of a candidate's grasp of the issues, ability to
handle adversity, and even their regional strengths. They also can take
this chance to fully debate the potential future direction of their
party, which is more in play in the presidential nomination contests
than any other part of our politics.
This kind of rigorous candidate testing and debate is best when the
contests are spread throughout an election season. In 1984, Gary Hart
and Jesse Jackson clashed with Walter Mondale all the way to June before
Mondale managed to collect enough delegates to clinch his party's nod.
Over the proceeding election cycles, though, states began to clue in
that the sooner they held their primaries, the more likely they were to
In 2004 John Kerry had wrapped up his nomination by February 17 with a
win in Wisconsin, and his winning streak from Iowa barely a month before
had been almost totally uninterrupted. In the end, Kerry had dominated
27 states with more than 55% of the vote or more (and 16 states with
over 70%), all of them essentially irrelevant after February 17.
Now that a herd of states have stampeded to the front of the calendar,
Iowa and New Hampshire have likely become even more defining in the
nomination process, and the parties will likely have their nominees even
more quickly than in 2004. We'll then have nine excruciating months to
watch the nominees battle it out over the airwaves for the benefit of a
handful of relevant swing states.
A saner approach: Fair Vote backs a plan to reform the primaries -that
creates clusters of primaries of increasing state size. We like the idea
of small states holding early contests, giving us a close-up look at
candidates through retail politics, but balance that positioning with
opportunities for larger states to play a decisive role. And just as
importantly, every state needs to feel an incentive to play by the
rules, ending the stampede once and for all.
It's time to "fix the primaries" -- indeed we've joined with advocates
of a range of proposals to so just that.
THE AMERICAN PLAN
HOW TO FIX THE PRIMARIES BLOG