There's some level of nostalgia over the notion of a long, drawn out primary process in which Iowa and New Hampshire kick things off. This is supposed to help the Jimmy Carter-type underdogs "build momentum" and give voters a chance to "deliberate" over their decisions.
In reality, of course, we had a system in which two non-representative states (IA and NH) decided our nominee last time, and they were gunning for the same "right" this time around.
The rest of the states aren't morons. They saw what was happening, and so many have moved up to the front of the pack that now we have essentially a national primary on Feb. 5. Is that a bad thing? I'd argue it's a fantastic things.
- Candidates are being seen outside of NH and IA. Obama was in Oakland last weekend, Austin and L.A. the week before. A presidential contender in California? Perish the thought! And he wasn't just syphoning up Silicon Valley money (which is why candidates come to the Bay Area)! The other candidates are similarly being forced to expand their travel horizons, acknowledging that good Democrats live outside of Iowa and New Hampshire.
In other words, candidates have to appeal to voters all over the country, not just do ethanol panders in Iowa.
- It encourages people-powered candidates. Four years ago, Howard Dean came from nowhere to build a national organization that's still in operation today (Democracy for America). The campaign derailed in Iowa, but the pieces were in place to nationalize the operation.
Now it's true that it's insanely expensive for a campaign to ramp up an operation in these many states. But one can be done cheaply by building a people-powered operation, a la Dean for America. This ability to organize won't just help a candidate romp through the expensive early big states (including Florida, California, New York, Texas, and probably Pennsylvania, and others), but that organization will be invaluable in taking out the Republican nominee in the general.
- Yes, this calendar will cost a lot of money, but if a candidate can't raise money, do we really want him or her as our nominee against the GOP money juggernaut? I consider the primary season an opportunity to probe each candidate for chinks in the armor, and failure to raise money is a huge red flag.
And while in the past raising money meant being chummy to the big-dollar donors, nowadays candidates can raise the big bucks by tapping into small dollar networks. Of course, this requires a different skill set -- one must inspire rather than kiss ass. But I suspect a candidate that "inspires" will beat the candidate who's chummiest with the Big Money People. And as a bonus, it gives us a candidate bought and paid for by the people, rather than one owned by corporatist or other hostile interests.
- This one is the cherry on top -- it's driving Iowa and New Hampshire crazy. The two states might have to find an alternate identity beyond "we hold the presidential candidates hostage for a year."
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