Friday, May 30, 2008

How soon some Democrats forget: Al Gore was not helped by easy nomination in 2000

By Rob Richie
May 10th, 2008

The conventional wisdom crowd is having a field day with misguided arguments in favor of avoiding competitive contests in presidential primaries — take former MccCain advisor Dan Schnur’s somewhat wistful analysis for the New York Times that if Democrats had had the same popular vote results in each state and used winner-take-all rules, Hillary Clinton would have a lock on the nomination despite having fewer popular votes overall. You now have Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for Bill Clinton, opining that winner-take-all is the way to go.

I’ve argued in this blog that Democrats in fact are getting a leg up over Republicans with their process — mobilizing far more voters that will help them in the fall in down-ballot races, getting far more press attention that has contributed to a widening advantage over Republicans in voter self-identification and getting more “battle-tested”, with plenty of time to heal wounds as long as the contest ends soon after the Montana primary on June 3rd.

Of course for many Democrats, they just want to make sure the process doesn’t lead to a loss in November. But they seem to be forgetting history:

* John Kerry in 2004 had an easy nomination process after his upset win in Iowa and follow-up win in New Hampshire. Then he lost a race a lot of Democrats thought they could have won.

* Al Gore in 2000 had a far easier nomination process than George Bush. After winning Iowa and New Hampshire and the onset of Bill Bradley’s heart condition, he strolled to the nomination while Bush faced a vigorous challenge from John McCain. By May, Bush was 8% ahead in a New York Times poll and went onto win a race many Democrats thought was theres. Of course the election was highly controversial, but few would argue Gore somehow was boosted by having such an easy ride to the nomination.

* Bob Dole in 1996 overcame a stumble in New Hampshire to close out the nomination relatively early under Republican winner-take-all rules. He never came close to defeating Bill Clinton’s re-election effort.

* In 1992, George Bush quickly fended off Pat Buchanan’s insurgent campaign while Bill Clinton had to fight it out for months. But Clinton won by 6% in November.

And so on. Each election has its own reasons for why the general election goes the way it does, with the most important being the public attitude toward the party occupying the White House. Having a more democratic process for choosing nominees seems to be no barrier to winning in November.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

David Broder's President of the Swing States of America

By Rob Richie
9 May 2008

David Broder, dean of inside-the-Beltway political pundits, often accurately captures the insiders' conventional wisdom. That's what makes his Washington Post column yesterday so reveavling. He casually calls North Carolina and Indiana "throwaway" states unworthy of the attentiont they received in Democratic primaries on May 6th.

"Throwaway"? Is this American democracy we're talking about?

Sadly, the answer is yes. Broder's appalling observation is based on the cruel reality of today's Electoral College system: a few states matter, and most states are so "unimportant" that they are "throwaways." The people of North Carolina and Indiana -- and indeed most of the nation -- may care about America just as much as the people of Ohio and Iowa, but fundamentally they are irrelevant. They live in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Broder is right that the major nominees will at most make token appearances in those states after securing their party's nomination.

Indeed, following this logic, Broder suggests these states shouldn't even count in primaries. He audaciously suggests that "In a sensible nominating system, these states would never become important battlegrounds. Lots of people complain that Iowa and New Hampshire enjoy disproportionate influence because of their place at the start of the process. But both are closely contested in November -- not throwaways."

For Broder, it's sensible that if a state is irrelevant in November it should be irrelevant in the nomination process. Long live the POTSSOA -- President of the Swing States of America.


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Friday, May 16, 2008

Sore Dems Want Out of Proportion Primaries

By Donald Lambro
9 May 2008

Under the Democrats' proportional system, delegates are awarded among the candidates in direct proportion to the vote each receives in the congressional districts, with some portion based on their share of the statewide vote. In the winner-take-all system used by the Republican Party, the candidate who takes a state primary, even by a single vote, wins all its delegates. But liberal Democrats are repulsed by what they consider to be an undemocratic, survival-of-the-fittest system that quickly eliminates the weaker candidates.

Throughout the year's primary battles, I always made it a habit of asking Clinton supporters whether they believed it would have been far better for their party if it had switched to winner-take-all. The answer was usually the same: no. The proportional system was "fairer," it rewarded front-runners and second-tier candidates, giving them a chance to build support as they became better known to their party, they told me.

Now, I find more and more Democrats -- especially Hillary's supporters -- regretting the present system, which produced an interminable nominating process that has proved to be costly, divisive and politically exhausting. The Democrats come off as the party who can't get its act together, struggling to produce a nominee, while Republicans have picked their strongest candidate early and are confidently gearing up for their convention and the general election to come.


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A plea to Clinton campaign: Don't use Florida and Michigan to block future reform

Rob Richie
9 May 2008

Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan have every reason to be frustrated about not having contests that elected delegates to the Democratic convention in Denver this August. But I hope they remember where to point their finger of blame: their state parties.

I'm a big fan of the parties establishing a rational schedule for nominating presidential candidates. My current favorite is the American Plan, perhaps ending with a single national primary the first Tuesday in June, but any number of plans are better than what we have - -see our FixThePrimaries website detailing several of them.

There's one common thread through every plan, however: the parties will need to enforce them, and states can't just move their primary or caucus to the front after the plan's been established.

That's what Florida and Michigan did in the past year. Party leaders in those states were understandably frustrated at being left out in past elections, and they didn't want it to happen again. So even though the Democratic National Committee went through a lengthy process of deciding how to modify their rules (putting South Carolina and Nevada into the January mix with Iowa and New Hampshire and having all other states wait until at least February 5th), Michigan and Florida last year passed laws establishing a January primary.

In the summer of 2007 the Democratic National Committee (DNC) made it clear that trying to establish a January primary would have severe consequences -- these states' delegates would not be seated at the national convention. The DNC offered alternatives like caucuses. But the Michigan and Florida parties essentially played chicken with the DNC, metaphorically putting their states' voters directly in front of the rushing train.

But the DNC didn't blink, so all the major campaigns swore off campaigning in Michigan and Florida.

Now that Senator Hillary Clinton is behind in delegates, her campaign is using high-toned rhetoric to urge that the January votes now be counted -- even though hers was the only major candidate with a name on the Michigan ballot and no campaign had operations in Florida Yesterday Sen. Clinton wrote: "whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will be hamstrung in the general election if a fair and quick resolution is not reached that ensures that the voices of [Florida and Michigan] voters are heard--.. The Republicans won an election [in 2000] by successfully opposing a fair counting of votes in Florida. As Democrats, we must reject any proposals that would do the same."

Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan of course matter, and I hope for their sakes that some agreement is made. But Sen. Clinton, the comparison between Florida in November 2000 and Florida in 2008 does not wash. If ever we are to have a better nomination process, states will need to abide by their national party rules -- and indeed I think they will if those rules are clearly fair. Parties can't establish a precedent of casting those rules aside when it is politically convenient to do so.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Results are in-- Democrats NOT being hurt by longer nomination process

By Rob Richie
May 5th, 2008

Many analysts are taking the position that the ongoing presidential nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is a gift to likely Republican nominee John McCain. Worried Democrats and gleeful Republicans are a regular feature of the horserace drumbeat.

I don't think so. And there's some good evidence to suggest I'm right.

Sure, many Democrats can rightly worried about the tenor of the campaign, but there are two basic points to keep in mind: 1) Democrats are engaging far more voters than Republicans as the primary season continues; 2) there's plenty of time to heal wounds.



Monday, May 12, 2008

Zigzagging Toward November

New York Times
5 May 2008

As the Democratic presidential contest slouches forward, the Republicans are wise to look ahead to 2012 and try to invent a better mousetrap than the jumbled primary system that they find occupying, if not entombing, the Democrats. The G.O.P.’s rules committee has offered a plan that attempts to find a better balance between “retail” politicking in smaller states and the inevitable big-money, heavy media campaigning in larger states.

The goal of a more measured and conclusive pace is well worth pursuing. But the scheme is already in doubt as Republican leaders in the larger states denounce it in advance of debate at the party convention in September.

Consider the crazy-quilt experience this year, in which a glut of states rushed forward to attempt a de facto national primary in February. Record turnouts have been followed by increasing confusion as various “showdown” votes roll forward three months later for the two Democratic finalists.

Twenty-year-old Democratic rules, rooted in arcane formulas about past Congressional turnouts, have awarded caucus and primary delegates proportionately, with, so far, a winner never quite winning and a loser never quite conceding. By now, the vaunted Democratic superdelegates are wary of their grand power to play Solomon by settling the competition in late August.

The Democrats cannot rewrite their rules in midrace, but voters must hope that some lessons are being learned and that appropriate changes will be attempted the next time around. In the Republican plan, the sticking point is that smaller states representing a quarter of the Electoral College clout would always vote first as a group (with, yes, Iowa and New Hampshire retaining their prom-queen status as separate openers). Three balanced groups of larger states would follow, rotating their positions in subsequent elections.

This, at least, is closer to a rotating regional primary system as proposed by the National Association of Secretaries of State — the model this page endorses.

Efforts to devise a better system may well founder in the tooth-and-claw state of politics, and with separate state parties and legislatures willing to freelance parochially this year against national party plans. Still, if only in the name of democracy, voters and candidates are entitled to dream of something better.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dean: Nomination Process Should Change

By Kristin Carlson
WCAX News, Washington, D.C.
9 May 2008

As the Democratic presidential fight continues, Party Chair Howard Dean says that, before the next election, the nomination process should be changed.

The race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been going on for months. Although Obama has a lead, many Democrats are still worried there will be a nomination fight at the convention, which could divide the party.

To try and avoid that, Dean has asked superdelegates, who can vote for either candidate at the convention, to declare who they support. But overall, it's a complicated system, one that Dean says needs fixing.

"I think we could readjust the superdelegates, make them fewer, or something like that. There are changes we could make, but I don't see any major changes. I would like to move the primaries back and not have people freezing in January, and campaigning over Christmas in Iowa," Dean said.

Dean says he's already talked with the Republican National Committee about making changes together when it comes to the primary schedule.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Will States Fix the 2012 Primary Process?

By Pamela M. Prah
6 May 2008

What if the presidential primary worked more like a lottery with all the states having a chance at the ultimate prize of being first to vote in the nominating schedule, ending the coveted tradition of New Hampshire and Iowa leading the pack?

That’s a simplified version of one of several ideas being considered by top party and state officials, who aim to prevent a repeat of states’ helter-skelter scramble for early presidential primary dates in 2008.

While voters in Indiana and North Carolina go to the polls today (May 6) to help Democrats pick Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as their nominee and Republicans rally behind John McCain, party insiders and state election officials are in informal talks to improve the presidential nominating contests for 2012 and beyond.


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Thursday, May 08, 2008

GOP seeks order to primary chaos

Roger Simon looks at this year's extended presidential nomination race between Clinton and Obama and concludes that there is nothing wrong with the process. And if one stands in Buffalo on a cold, windy day, one may conclude that global warming is a myth. This is the fallacy of seizing on a single data point; it is not valid reasoning. --TG

By Roger Simon
5 May 2008

In past elections, most of the stuff discussed would have been considered "deep in the weeds," but this year there has been an intense concentration on the process itself.

Is our current system of selecting presidential candidates doomed?

It certainly is under attack. And that’s because it has become so messy.

It often starts with a fight over whether Iowa and New Hampshire will go first, and then the rest of the states jostle and elbow each other to move up close behind them.

This year has been downright chaotic. We have two "rogue" states on the Democratic side that have been stripped of all their delegates, and five "semi-rogue" states on the Republican side that have been stripped of half of them. And the Democrats are at an ethical crossroads over whether superdelegates should overturn the choice of pledged delegates.

It has all been very exhausting, which is to say fun. Though I realize not everybody has found it as jolly as I have.


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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Who’s on First? Trying to Fix the Primary Calendar

By Katharine Q. Seelye
New York Times
April 30, 2008

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- For all the bellyaching about the current presidential primary system -- it starts too early, goes on too long, is insanely expensive and gives undue influence to two small states (and you know who you are) -- it is possible that the same system will be in place for the next presidential cycle.

Or it might be blown to bits.

Some of the officials responsible for setting up the Democratic and Republican primaries -- various secretaries of state, state party chairmen and national party rules officials -- met here Tuesday at Harvard’s Institute of Politics to talk about the primaries.

By a show of hands of the roughly 50 officials, most thought the current system was basically successful. States that were once irrelevant have had a voice, at least on the Democratic side. Voter turnout has soared. Whether these outcomes are the result of this particular process or are unintended consequences of it, of course, are debatable, but that didn’t stop the Democrats in particular from crowing about them.

But they also agreed that some things should change. The official start date should be moved back to at least late February, even if the next campaign starts unofficially the day after Election Day.

They would also spread out the primaries to eliminate what David Norcross, chairman of the Republican rules committee, called the February "clutter." On Feb. 5 alone, 22 states held contests in what amounted to a national primary. This meant that many states didn’t see the candidates, didn’t have their issues discussed and didn’t get the media attention or the economic boon that they hoped for.

And after all, it is about the states and what they perceive as their best interests.

Determining that has been a vexing process for decades. But "fixing" the system means different things to different people. And it is clear from the discussion here that some states are ready to repeat last year’s “gold rush” in which everyone flocks to be first -- and try again to snatch the early attention from Iowa and New Hampshire.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

GOP Proposes New Primary Calendar

By Stephen Ohlemacher, AP
2 April 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Republican Party rules committee voted Wednesday to allow small states to hold nominating contests before big states in 2012, which would preserve the traditional roles of Iowa and New Hampshire as the earliest voting states.

Larger states would be placed into three groups that would rotate the dates of their nominating contests.

With this year's GOP nominee chosen, Republicans already are moving to regain control of the presidential primary calendar four years from now. Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett, who developed the plan, said a coordinated primary calendar is necessary because so many states were moving their primaries earlier.

"Nobody wants a national primary," Bennett said in a telephone interview from the GOP meeting near Albuquerque, N.M. "When you have a national primary you eliminate retail politics. You eliminate the ability of candidates to sit in somebody's living room and talk to them."

Bennett said he accepted the special early voting status for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as a political reality he cannot change.

This year, Iowa started the voting with its caucuses on Jan. 3, and more than 20 states staged a de facto national primary on Feb. 5.

Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn't be allowed to vote first just because they have in the past.


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