Monday, October 22, 2007

Primary mystery proves curiouser and curiouser

By Paul West
Baltimore Sun
Baltimore, Maryland
17 October 2008

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'

When it comes to nonsense, Lewis Carroll’s got nothing on the folks who are bringing you the ‘08 campaign.

How about staging a nomination campaign before you know when the elections will be? The candidates have no choice.

Consider: With wide-open races in both parties, the Republican and Democratic contenders have spent the past several years traveling the country, raising and spending tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of the presidency. They’ve aired thousands of TV ads already, put hundreds of advisers and field workers on the payroll and participated in countless debates, forums, TV interviews, webcasts and grassroots events.

And yet, none of the candidates, at this very late date, knows when the first vote will be cast. That’s a rather significant problem, one that greatly complicates their efforts to devise a winning strategy.

Is the first primary two and a half months away? Or will it be in a matter of a few weeks? Will the big states of Michigan and Florida stage showdowns in January? Or, if they are only symbolic "beauty contests," will they matter?

How about little Iowa and New Hampshire, whose symbiotic relationship has outsized influence on the final outcome? Remember Howard Dean’s scream last time? The one-time frontrunner howled in Iowa and was effectively finished, eight days later, when he failed to take New Hampshire. This time, those two states are likely to be closer together than ever before, with unpredictable consequences.



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