Republican and Democrat candidates for president have been trekking to Iowa and New Hampshire for over a year in hopes of making a good showing in the first two presidential primaries. Yet why in the world are we so concerned about what the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire think?
Political pilgrimages to these two idiosyncratic states have been the Holy Grail of presidential politics over the past six decades. Which raises the obvious question, why Iowa and New Hampshire? Why not give some other states a shot at going first in the primary sweepstakes and having a real voice in nominating our presidential candidates.
I’m sick and tired of hearing about what voters in Iowa and New Hampshire think about the candidates for president. Who really cares what they think? After all, Iowa and New Hampshire will have very few delegates at the respective conventions. So, why should those two states have such an unwarranted impact on the presidential primaries?
Unfortunately, Iowa and New Hampshire all but choose our nominees for us. But, neither state is a good bellwether for the other 48 states. They are smaller, older, whiter, and more rural than other states.
Both states are small, New Hampshire is ranked 43rd in population and Iowa 31st. And, New Hampshire has the 7th oldest electorate in the Union, while Iowa is 13th oldest. Hardly reflective of national demographics.
With regard to minorities, New Hampshire ranks 44th in the nation in African-American and Hispanic voters, while Iowa is 40th for African Americans and 34th for Hispanics. Once again, certainly not a mirror image of our country.
With the state of the economy in the spotlight in the campaign, it should to noted that unemployment in New Hampshire is 3.1%, the 6th lowest state unemployment in the union, and almost half the national average. That’s hardly representative of our overall national economic doldrums.
Our outdated presidential primary system should be changed. First, we need to change the order of the presidential primaries. Next time, Iowa and New Hampshire should go last. It’s a national disgrace that each election cycle those two primaries are vastly more important than those states lumped into the later Super Tuesday stampedes (multiple state primaries with heavy delegate count crammed into a single day), or those very late primaries that become meaningless afterthoughts with zero impact on the selection process.
Advocates for Iowa and New Hampshire going first argue that it gives candidates an increasingly rare opportunity to engage in retail politics and generate some political momentum if they are starting with less money or name recognition. But there are many other states that could provide that same grass-roots handshaking opportunities and those “town hall meetings.” How about Ohio? Or Idaho? The Iowa-New Hampshire primary primacy seems to be a simple case of political inertia.
Of course, while the political stakes are huge, the financial stakes are considerable as well. Early primary states reap a considerable economic windfall in the form of lavish campaign spending and media buys.
Over the past year, candidates, their handlers and staff, and armies of reporters have been flooding into New Hampshire and Iowa injecting millions of dollars into those states’ economy. New Hampshire officials estimate that their first-in-the-nation presidential primary will mean $264 million in economic benefits to the state from media and campaign visits. Other states (name your favorite) ought to have a shot at that economic windfall, particularly in light of their struggling economies.
We need a better, more equitable way to schedule state presidential primary elections. Some have suggested having regional primaries and rotating the order every presidential election… Northeast, Southwest, Midwest and so on. That would be more vastly more democratic and would distribute the economic benefits of early primaries more equitably.
But, to be totally fair to all 50 states, maybe we should have a national lottery to determine the order of state primaries. The lottery would be conducted like many state gambling lotteries (50 ping pong balls in a rotating drum) as a televised event, but on a larger, national stage with coverage by all the major networks and cable news programs. A lottery system would be simple to execute and would avoid the escalating interstate competition to run the earliest primaries.
The series of rotating regional primaries or the lottery to select the states to hold the first primaries offer a vastly more fair and democratic system, while still providing a sufficient proving ground to allow us to evaluate and thoroughly vet the candidates.
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