Feb 17, 2007

A Progressive Approach to the Presidential Nomination Process--Start with Smaller Steps, Pick Up the Pace Gradually

Stop the Madness. Open up the Process, Reduce the Role of Money, Make it More Interesting, Give More Choices to the Voters!

It's hard to believe that the next big election won't happen for a year and a half, but a year from today, we'll most likely know the eventual major party nominees. This is because many states are moving their primaries up, way up. Some are threatening to have them in January or very early in February. It's getting out of hand I think. The reason why Iowa went first with its caucuses and followed by New Hampshire's primaries was to make it easier for lesser known candidates to have a chance with limited resources by competing in very small states. Retail politics, we call it. Now with more and bigger states cramming their contests earlier, it's the better known, better financed candidates that have the big advantage.

I understand the complaint states like New Jersey have, that by the time they hold their primary, it's all but over. So, they do want to be part of the action. In our very peculiar electoral system, states have lots of power when it comes to elections, and even how their delegation to Congress is selected, among other privileges. We have 100 major [with presence in all 50 states] parties in the US. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. They are independent, legal entities; two for every state, plus the national party committees that supposedly coordinate all. This is one reason we have 2 major parties in every state and on the national stage, because local parties ..move left or right to accommodate the public sentiment. Therefore, we have the Republican parties in the Northeast who are closer to their counterpart Democratic parties, and whereas the Dems in, say, Alabama & Mississippi are more conservative than the Repubs in the Northeast!

The National party holds the convention, of course, and has the authority not to recognize the delegates from a state party--a threat uttered recently by the DNC recently in an attempt to control the states' frenzy to front-load the primaries. The National parties--or more appropriately, the National Committees--have lost much of their power. Since the 1960s, increasingly it's the individual politicians that decide when and for what to run. They pick their own issues and raise their own money. The mass media had a lot to do with this turnaround. The Internet pushed this a few steps forward. Howard Dean, for example, used the Internet and "grass-root" organizations to propel himself (and to raise more money through the Internet than anyone else) four years ago. I don't think he was a favorite of the Democratic party, but he became a force to be reckoned with. Today, he heads the DNC!

I have a suggestion: The order of the contests should be according to the size of the delegation. The smaller ones go first, followed by the medium-sized, and the larger. This would give a fighting chance to the lesser candidates, the contest can thus open up and the candidates will have an opportunity to do retail politics and gather momentum. The contest will become more interesting as the "heavier" states come into play later on. In other words more states will become important battlegrounds under this system. OK, the national convention will probably still be a show, but a better at that as the primary voters may have a greater say in who gets there. As of now, the front runner is not only known but he's got a huge number of delegates since his victory was assured early on. If those states that are threatening to move up do so, then by the first Tuesday in February 2008, there will be a virtual nominee by then!

Soon, I'm going to write about the polling and the current front runners, but as of today, what we're seeing in the polls is basically name recognition. There is much "softness" of intent and support. This name recognition, however, may become a de facto arrangement since the candidates with less money and a lower national profile may never get their chance to speak to the nation and try to effectively campaign for the votes of their party's members.