Even though the presidential election is more than one year away, it seems like it's already gone
on forever. I am getting sick of the numerous debates, countless interpretations of strategy, and
seemingly endless analyses of the White House horse race. It's all too much, too early.
Even for me, a political scientist.
The nomination process has begun too early and is spinning out of control. This madcap dash is a
mapmaker's nightmare: only politics could put Michigan next to South Carolina, and Wyoming
next to New Hampshire.
As of this column's publication, the official beginning of the presidential race remains unclear.
Iowa Republicans lead off with caucuses on Jan. 3. (That's right, two days after New Year's
Day!) Then Wyoming, where Republicans are scheduled to hold a convention on Jan. 5. New
Hampshire will vote shortly after that.
Or maybe it won't.
New Hampshire may vote later this year. By state law, the New Hampshire secretary of state
must set the state's primary date one week before any other "similar" contests. Bill Gardner, the
secretary of state, may decide the Granite State needs more "breathing room," and move the
primary into late fall. Some have suggested Dec. 11.
Michigan has scheduled its primary on Jan. 15. Florida has scheduled a Jan. 29 primary. These
big states are offering early contests to exert greater influence on the eventual nominees, and
argue they are more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire. However, these dates have been
challenged by both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee as
violating party rules.
So, many Democratic candidates have withdrawn from Michigan, including Sen. Barack Obama
and John Edwards, weakening the primary's legitimacy. The DNC might ignore the results of the
Florida primary altogether. The RNC, on the other hand, is threatening to strip up to half of
Michigan and Florida's delegates.
But between Michigan and Florida are South Carolina and Nevada. South Carolina Republicans
will vote on Jan. 19, a day chosen because Florida moved its primary to Jan. 29. Both wanted to
be the first Southern primary. Nevada will caucus Jan. 19.
Feb. 5 is now referred to as "Super Duper Tuesday." That day, Democrats will hold 22 contests,
while Republicans will hold 20 races. These will include delegate-rich New York and California.
With this many states voting , the primary races could effectively be over by nightfall.
Hyper-competition is the prime cause of this ridiculous front-loading of the primary schedule.
Competing for the party nomination used to be between candidates, who would argue over ideas,
strive for media scrutiny, rush to fund raise and earn support from special interest groups.
Now, however, the competition has engulfed the states, which contend with each for early
influence and media attention. More and more states are pushing toward the front of the line.
Civility is forgotten. There's too much at stake.
This state of affairs could produce troubling scenarios. One is too much confusion. For example,
if states go ahead and hold primaries in defiance of party rules, some or all of the elected
delegates might not be seated at the party's convention. If someone sweeps all the early contests,
then refusing to seat these delegates won't matter.
But if the race is tight, the legality of these contested delegates would likely be challenged by the
candidates. This would be exciting, sure, but it would create an image of party in chaos. No
political party wants this.
Just ask Democrats who remember the 1968 and 1972 national conventions.
This process could also end the races too quickly. Party nominees might be chosen as early as
Feb. 5, after barely one month of voting. Is it beneficial for a party to choose its standard bearer
in only four weeks? The contests come so rapidly that voters could have little time for reflection.
Moreover, this scenario could effectively produce a nine-month general election campaign. What
if there is buyer's remorse?
The only way out then is a third party. And that's a scenario neither major party probably wants
Whatever scenario eventually plays out, states at the back of the line will suffer.
Like Maine, which likely won't be influential in the nominating process. Democrats caucus Feb.
10. By then, the presumptive Democratic nominee could already be known. The Republican
caucus starts Feb 1. Since this date is so close to "Super Duper Tuesday," the GOP candidates
may skip our state entirely.
It's fine with me that Maine isn't shoving to the front of the delegate selection line. The
presidential nominating system is on the verge of degenerating into absurdity. Too many states
are acting like reckless teenagers: determined to prove their independence, but careless of the
When it becomes even too much for political scientists, I can only imagine how voters feel.