Michigan and Florida have moved their primary elections up into January, challenging Iowa and New Hampshire for the "right" to be first. Democratic and Republican national committees say these upstarts will be stripped of their delegates to next year's conventions (don't bet on it). No matter, say the renegade states; they want the "clout."
Meanwhile Iowa and New Hampshire say they will keep moving ahead on the calendar in order to be first and second with their respective caucuses and primary. This may mean elections the day before and the day after Thanksgiving, if not Halloween.
All this gives headaches to campaign planners and schedulers. No matter how it turns out, the two nominees are likely to be known on February 6, the day after 20 states hold primaries. By then the total will be 30. If you think the roughly 18 month run-up to 2008 is tiresome and boring thus far, imagine what it will be like between February and the conventions in July and August. There will be almost nothing new for the two putative nominees to say. Thus, cable news channels, with their need to fill 24 hours a day, will expand minutiae and supposed "gaffes" into breathless "crises."
Enough already, say three U.S. Senators in presenting what is one of those rarities, a truly non-partisan idea. They are Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). Their reasoning is that the chaotic current situation -- compressing actual campaigning into about 60 days -- has two things wrong with it. First, most candidates have neither the time nor the money to adequately campaign in so many states in such a short time. This deprives voters in many places of an opportunity to get to know the candidates on the ground. Secondly, the compression factor, requiring so much "up front" money, will have the effect of discouraging lesser-known candidates from making the race (those year-ahead televised debates are only warm-ups).
What the Senate trio proposes, beginning with the 2012 presidential election, is a series of four regional primaries: East, South, Midwest and West. The regions would draw straws to see which goes first that year. The next time, 2016, the region that went first in 2012 would drop to fourth place as each other region moved up, and so forth.
The regional primaries or caucuses would be held on the first Tuesday (or within six days of it) in March, April, May and June, respectively for the regions.
This plan would make campaign costs more rational (some media often cover good-sized regions and travel would be more concentrated) and reducing the cost of campaigning is always desirable. Television news coverage would be more concentrated geographically so that the viewing public would get a better idea of trends in a particular region.
The senators' proposed legislation has one flaw: It keeps pride of place for the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. While we're reforming the whole primary system it makes no sense (except to political folks in Iowa and New Hampshire) to make these exceptions to the plan. They have served their purpose -- intense on-the-ground contact with voters, magnified by national television. However, a new regional primary system of the type proposed would be fair to all states and would give voters four months of concentrated campaign coverage reflecting the views of voters one region after the other.
The concept of regional primaries is so sensible there will no doubt be a great deal of opposition to it.
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