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.



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