This is an attempt to honestly explore the reasons behind the compressed primary schedule, the rationale as I see it, and how the realities of this campaign have matched up.
Since Terry Mac doesn't have a crystal ball any more than the rest of us do, I'm assuming that his reasoning for accelerating the calendar was based on an analysis of past campaigns and recent developments that were expected to have certain impacts on it.
1. Front-loading means front-runner loading. Most primary races are sifted by pre-primary action (the money primary, the endorsements primary, the staffer primary) into a front-runner, an insurgent, and a pack of also-rans. Putting aside the question of favoritism (i.e. that the DNC leadership is stacking the deck in favor of an establishment candidate that it presumes will be the front-runner), the new calendar tends to benefit the front-runner because it allows less time for negatives to take hold, less time for momentum to reverse, and less time for regeneration of burned campaign dollars.
Why would this benefit the party? It means that we end up with a candidate with lots of momentum at the end of an easy fight, during which few negatives have stuck.
Has it worked? So far, yes. Let me qualify that by saying I'm considering Kerry to be the front-runner as far as the calendar is concerned. True, Dean was the front-runner at the end of the pre-campaign, but I'm exploring the calendar here, and the calendar begins on the date of the first caucus (Iowa), when Kerry became the front-runner. Since that time we've seen few negatives stick to him, and loads of momentum that have carried him to more than a few victories he wouldn't have won without the mo.
2. Fund-raising. Following the BCRA, it became imperative for candidates to raise their own money rather than depend on soft money. This is going to create big, big problems for any Democrat in the general race because of the historic weakness of Democrats in hard money and the huge advantage Bush already has. A longer calendar allows for more soft money raising because soft money doesn't get spent in the general; a shorter calendar allows for more hard money raising in the general.
Why would this benefit the party? Moving up the calendar allows the Democrats to get the convention over with sooner, allowing much more time for the nominee to raise general election funds. Without soft money, the pot of gold that the nominee gets from the party at convention time is much much smaller than before, and this makes up for that shortfall by allowing more fund-raising time afterward.
Has it worked? Not really. This was planned long before Dean "discovered" the Internet small-donor gusher. While $2000-a-plate dinners take time and precious resources to plan and execute, "bats" take no time at all and fill themselves while candidates sleep. Dean broke all primary fund-raising records before the season even began, and he's still raising $200k a day just barely clinging; imagine if Iowa had gone the other way and he now had the momentum and aura as well. His claims of a $200 million money machine might have been understated. In such a situation, the compressed calendar would be holding him back.
The calendar has also had a paradoxical effect in pitting #2 against #1. While it's created huge momentum for the front-runner, it's also reduced the base cost of running a competitive campaign. A shorter calendar means fewer events to run, fewer staffer paychecks to cut and meals to buy, etc. An argument could have been made that it allows less time for a candidate to hold major fund-raising events as well, but in the new fund-raising model, there are much fewer events anyway. The new model allows for a more efficient use of a front-runner's time, but it allows minor candidates to stay in longer with fewer resources.
3. Toe to toe. Every day of the primary campaign is a day when Democratic candidates could attack each other. The sooner we get to the convention, the sooner all voices unite in an anti-Bush chorus.
Why would this benefit the party? A large portion of the opposition's efforts will be geared toward raising the nominee's negatives. The less help they get from other Democrats, and the more help they have in countering those attacks, the better off we will be.
Has it worked? Hard to say just yet, and I'm really on the fence here. On the one hand, we're seeing a front-runner come through really fast with very few negatives. But we've seen an insurgent stifled even faster under a storm of negatives. Meanwhile, Bush seems to be digging himself deeper every day whether Democrats are pushing the issue of the day or not.
Will Republicans be able to stick issues to Kerry that Democrats haven't? Is Kerry vetted enough? If something dreadful happens to Kerry in April (as some astrologers predict), will the voters be able to pick someone else in time? Assuming that Kerry pulls the nomination, does the new calendar put him in a better place? These are all questions I hope people will come and discuss as well as the poll question.