Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amendment Suggestion: Dealing with Primary Chaos

I spotted recently in my local paper this opinion piece from the Washington Post:

By this time next year, the races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations are likely to be over. Bemoaning the front-loaded primary calendar has become a quadrennial event, but this campaign could be more speeded up than ever and even less healthful for the democratic process. Under the plan, the Democrats' 2008 sprint starts with caucuses in Iowa (Jan. 14) and Nevada (Jan. 19), followed by primaries in New Hampshire (Jan. 22) and South Carolina (Jan. 29). New Hampshire, angry that its first-in-the-nation status is being threatened, could move its contest even earlier, to 2007.
But the worst news is that a number of larger states, including California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Florida, are considering moving their primaries to Feb. 5, the first permissible date for other states to hold contests. On the part of each individual state, this is a rational act: Why should voters from smaller states determine the outcome while big-state voters are shut out? But the overall result will be a worsening of all the ill effects of front-loading, and for both parties: In most states, the Republican primary is held the same day.
I'd argued this before: it made little sense for the smaller states like New Hampshire or South Carolina to start the calendar for Presidential primaries. The reason why was front-loading (thanks, Post, I was wondering what word could be used to describe this):
Front-loading benefits better-known candidates with big bank accounts more than it does dark horses who might be able to do well and gain momentum in a more rationally paced system. It deprives most voters in most states of having a say in who their party's nominee will be. It short-circuits a process that could test candidates' capacities for connecting with voters and conveying their views.
The Post's editorial finished off with this note:
The National Association of Secretaries of State has proposed a calendar that would allow Iowa and New Hampshire to go first, followed by four regional primaries held every month from March through June. The regions would rotate their positions on the primary calendar each cycle. We supported the plan in 2000, when it seemed the process couldn't become much crazier. Now, when that campaign looks sedate by the standards of 2008, we agree more than ever.
The problem is this still doesn't fix the problem of front-loading. Whoever wins Iowa and New Hampshire will have momentum going into the regional primaries. You'll have candidates dropping out between NH and Regional One. And whoever wins the first regional primary still gets massive momentum, with only a quarter of the nation having any real say. And you'll have more candidates drop out. By the Regional Two, there's no contest. No real choice. And it will still be unfair to those voters and those states that didn't get to go first.

There is honestly only one true solution:
  • Amendment Idea Number Three: All primary voting for political parties choosing their Presidential candidate must be held in all states at the same time.
All primary votes all on the same day, mid-June (Flag Day!). All parties with primary candidates doing it on the same day. Why, do you ask, is this the one true solution?

Think of the President in terms of who and what he/she represents. Compare the President to say a Congressman. Congressman represents a district. Senator represents a whole state. President represents the whole nation. So the whole nation should get to say who should be their choice to run for President.

The argument against individual states running their own primaries at their own times has already been made: why should South Carolina get to choose before California? Why should California choose before Texas? Why should Hawaii choose before Indiana? Why should any one state's primary winner get the momentum over the other candidates, if only because that winning candidate does well in that one state? That winning candidate may appeal to voters in New York, but he/she may not sell well in Arizona, Oregon, Alabama and Minnesota.

I keep harping on the 2000 GOP Primary, because it was when I realized how screwed the primary system was. I was, back then, a McCain supporter. I took one look at Dubya and knew that guy should get nowhere near the White House. Now, McCain won New Hampshire, and this was in spite of the massive fundraising Dubya had going for him, so I was hoping that the right candidate would be getting a shot at securing the nomination. And then South Carolina happened. And while I've got major issues about mudslinging that will be discussed elsewhere in a later post, I realized someone like McCain didn't sell well in a socially conservative state like SC (which explains why McCain is now so desperately sucking up to the religious right for 2008). By the time McCain had a shot for Florida (which was soon after), he had basically dropped from the race and was no longer actively campaigning (he left his name on the ballot but had stopped stumping). He had to: the party money was already backing the Shrub, and with South Carolina McCain had lost his Mo.

What happened to McCain in South Carolina got me mad: I screamed aloud "Why does a state like South Carolina get to decide?" I noted how large-populated states like Florida, Texas and California didn't even get a chance to make a true choice. I thought, even with the Jeb Bush political machine in Florida, that McCain had a true shot at winning Florida (it was more of a hope: like I just noted, with Jeb here his brother George pretty much had this state in the bag). I knew Texas wouldn't vote against their own Favored Son, but I knew McCain would have done well out West and would have gotten California. If only...

Ever since then, I don't want any one state getting to choose who wins any early primary, not even Florida, or even California: it's simply unfair to all other states if one state gets to give the Big Mo to one candidate over any other. So the simplest and best and most fair solution is to have all states run one primary at the same time.

But, say the naysayers and status quoers, having ALL states at the same time is blatantly unfair to the small-population states, whose votes won't count compared to the large states. You'll have candidates focusing on the ten biggest states at the expense of the ten smallest. How is any of that fair?

Those are solid complaints; however, they can be fixed by additional passages in the amendment, such as this one:
  • All candidates for President must campaign evenly among all states. This will include spending, advertising, personal appearances, and any other methods that are used in campaigning.
This is clear: if you want to run for President, you run in all 50 states. You can't pick and choose: you can't just focus on California and Texas and Florida and New York and expect to secure enough primary convention seats to claim victory. You gotta make plays in North Dakota and Montana and Wyoming and Delaware and Alaska too.

This should do a couple of things:
  • It will ensure a consistent message from a candidate during the campaign.
Even in this day of instant global news, and of YouTubing, candidates go from primary to primary changing their messages and campaign slogans and topics of interest. You goto New Hampshire and talk up labor and job protection. Then you go to South Carolina and talk God and immigration reform. Then you go to Florida and talk tourism and beach erosion. Then you go to Texas and talk oil drilling and the evils of sodomy. And you don't have to worry if you flip-flop from any earlier statements: If you've already run and won in an early primary, those states can't reneg on you if you change your campaign focus in the later states. If you run one big national campaign, it will get to be tougher to 'massage' your messages and flip-flop from state to state. What say if you do a big thing about how 'Sodomy Is EVIL' in Texas and 10 minutes later your opponent gets to shred you in front of voters in sodomy-friendly New York, who now get to vote at the same time as Texas? It will really hurt if your opponent gets to shred you in New York without alienating the voters in Texas. As a result, campaigning candidates will have to get real careful about what they say in one state, else they worry about the votes they lose in other states. You'll see candidates focusing more on the Big Picture items that Presidents need to focus on anyway, rather than bouncing from topic to topic that would only be of interest to specific states (and that could even be detrimental to the nation as a whole).
  • Another thing is that it will ensure getting candidates who appeal nationwide, rather than those who would appeal to the states that would vote early.
The current system of primaries favor the extremist wings of the parties. The early primaries for the Democrats in 2008 are set for Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (interesting in that NH doesn't go first this time, although Iowa has had informal Caucuses before the Hampshire primaries before). Small population states, each one. And in these states, even a socially conservative state like South Carolina, the Democratic voters are going to skew to the more extreme far left. Small states tend to have specific issues, which have a polarizing effect. Large population states tend to have greater diversity regarding issues because there are more topics of interest, and with more people providing differing views. With small states, all you need is one candidate who sells well on one topic. With large states, you need a candidate able to appeal to a broader scope over more topics. With the whole nation on the clock, you need a candidate able to appeal to all issues, something that the more extreme far right and far left candidates never do. You should get, hopefully, a better quality of candidates when you require them to appeal to the whole nation rather than to the regional/state extremes.

There is, of course, one negative to requiring that a candidate campaign evenly among all 50 states: that guy is gonna need a sh-tload of money to spend evenly between Maine and Hawaii and all states inbetween. That's why it's important that we include this amendment along with Amendment Idea Number Two: if we cap the campaigning to that specific year of election, it will prevent the candidates from raising any early massive warchest. No one candidate will have an advantage or momentum over another as of Jan. 2nd. They will have, since the primary will be held off until June, six months to cover all 50 states, roughly the amount of time they campaign already from state-to-state. Combine this with additional legislation providing for equal fund sharing (publicly-paid campaign funding is an idea bounced about), and this ought to fix any issue relating to fundraising nationwide.

An all-at-once primary campaign is one of the best ways to fix our broken nominating process for choosing Presidents. It will prevent front-runners who are good at fund-raising within the party and appealing to single-issue extremist voters but lousy at actual leadership from outpacing other candidates who are honestly more qualified but lack the money, momentum, and partisanship that exists with the current system.

The only other option is to remove the primary system altogether and replace it with a reality T.V. show: Who Wants to Be President? with voters calling a 1-800 number to cast their vote, or send a text message to vote because phone companies make more money that way. I think the all-at-once Primary is more honorable...