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Is the primary system broken?
Posted by: McQ on Monday, January 22, 2007

One of the talking heads I've found to be among the most balanced, rational and knowledgeable is US News and World's Michael Barone.

Today Barone takes on a subject we touched on in our podcast with Capt. Ed of CQ yesterday: Presidential primaries. Or to be succinct about it, how badly the primary process is really serving us.

He lists four major problems with the sytem:

1. It starts too early, takes too long, and ends too abruptly.

2. It excludes many serious candidates.

3. It gives too much power to Iowa and New Hampshire.

4. It gives one person the power to determine who is vice president.


Addressing number 3 first, I'd agree but also note that a number of primaries are being shifted to earlier and earlier dates, with some like CA being among those. As Dale points out, especially to Democrats, CA is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Win CA and a couple of other early primaries and you're essentially the presumptive nominee, which, in effect takes care of the "it takes too long" part. Even though they primaries seem to stretch on forever, at some point, even to the most reality-challenged candidate (well, OK, except Kucinich) at some point it becomes clear that staying in the race is useless.

But Barone has a point about the primaries starting too early (and one reason I predicted it isn't at all out of the realm of possibility that the next president of the US will have spent 1 billion trying to secure the office). And because they do, they force potential candidates to make decision well before they'd probably prefer to do so:
Some candidates have been busy running most of last year, and now they're busy announcing their exploratory committees. So anyone who doesn't want to devote two or three years to nonstop fundraising and campaigning is ruled out. That would have eliminated past candidates like Dwight Eisenhower.
His last point about Eisenhower is an important point. If, for instance, you are a Colin Powell fan and if Powell actually had the desire to run, I don't think anyone would expect him to consider doing so in the time frame now considered necessary in order to have a chance to win. It also forces into the race those such as Obama and Edwards who really should be concentrating on building the experience necessary to appeal to voters by fulfilling the duties of the national office they'd just won.

So number 1 causes number 2 (ok you bathroom humor types, button it) and denies the field of some very good candidates simply because of the need to start the process so early.

As to the 4th point, Barone says:
A vice president can become president anytime and usually becomes a serious presidential candidate. We devote all manner of time and trouble to selecting presidential nominees, then toss the choice of their possible successor to one person.
He has a point. But then we don't select the third in line either, but in fact, majority and political seniority and leadership do. However, I can see Barone's point concerning our willingness to leave that decision to others while we scream, shout and tub thump about picking the top man or woman. It really makes no sense.

Last but not least, I want to address another problem with point 3. As the present system is configured and works, not only do IA and NH have too much power, but the radicals, extremists and activists within those states have too much power. Primaries have a tendency to attract those types more than the 'typical' voter who turns up on general election day. So it is more likely that a more extreme agenda is going to find a receptive audience in the primaries and be rewarded. That then leaves us with candidates who, having run to the extreme, must now find a way to appeal more to the center to win a general election. As we saw in the last election the candidate who paints his opponent as more extreme then has an excellent chance of winning (John Kerry was easily depicted as being the more extreme of presidential candidates).

Anyway, I wanted to throw this open to the commenters and get a feeling for how others feel about the present primary system and ideas to fix, change or do away with it. Make sure your read Barone's article first and, if you have an opportunity, listen to the podcast for some more background.

Should we have a national primary day? Some have suggested that leaders should again be chosen through national party conventions as they once were. And of course some say leave it alone, it's adequate as the system now stands.

Your thoughts are appreciated.
 
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Win CA and a couple of other early primaries and you’re essentially the presumptive nominee, which, in effect takes care of the "it takes too long" part.
Actually, that will only exacerbate the "ends too abruptly" problem.
 
Written By: SaveFarris
URL: http://
Actually, that will only exacerbate the "ends too abruptly" problem.
Well, if you agree that’s a problem. A national primary, for instance, would certainly end abruptly, but that would be it’s purpose and few would see that as a problem.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
That would have eliminated past candidates like Dwight Eisenhower.
Ike wouldn’t get nominated these days, by either party. Nor, I fear would a JFK, even.

I have not fully fleshed out this thought, yet, but it occurrs to me that the primary process itself is not flawed, so much as the politics that are driving them to the extremes we’ve seen the past few decades. Had the politics not drifted so far toward socialsm, over the period, then to now, our primary system would be working just fine... as it seems to have done then.

Would changing the primary system to adapt to the exremism we see today, serve to bring some sanity back to the primary process, I wonder, or would it intstead simply cast in stone the extremism?


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
4. It gives one person the power to determine who is vice president.
Is a silly complaint. First off, why are you supposed to get a say in the XO of the Country? How about this, and it has happened, we get Dubya AND AlGore, Dubya in as Pres. AlGore to balance Dubya? No, the Veep is there to work FOR the President. That is one of the reasons we amended the Constitution, IIRC. No split Aministration of Jefferson and someone else from another party.

I think it’s perfectly fine that the President chooses his/her Veep. And it’s not just one person, I mean the Pres. usually listens to folks about WHO s/he ought to choose... and you DO get a say. Don’t like the Ticket of the Peanut and Mondull, mostly because you don’t like Mondull, don’t vote for the Peanut...Don’t like "Deadeye Dick" Cheney, don’t vote for the ticket of Dubya and "The Gunslinger". The fact is people don’t really worry about the Veep job, or if they do it’s pretty far down their lists of concerns. I don’t remember a lot of polls showing, discontent with a ticket because of the Veep selection.

As to the rest, CA early is good for CA, I guess and CA Democrats. It skews the D race to the guy or gal that can poll well in LA and SanFran. I don’t know that it helps or hurts the Republicans. We don’t usually take CA, so a win there may or may not mean anything about electibility, those I guess the delegates pile up and so it’s important.

Most off all it’s the d@mn pundits and the "spin" doing as well as or better than the "expectations." Ugggh, who cares just tell me who has how many delegates and how close that person is to nomination...instead it becomes this giant media game of A did GOOD, but not as GOOD AS EXPECTED, this means trouble...does it really or does B just WANT it to mean trouble?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
A national primary would only exacerbate the problem of money. Running a national campaign is incredibly expensive. Maybe if it was consolidated with free TV advertising. Maybe.
 
Written By: Cats
URL: http://
Maybe if it was consolidated with free TV advertising. Maybe.

Why do I want this "free" advertising? The only way "free" advertising "works" is if you grant the challenger 4-5 X as much TV time as the incumbent....

And you still pay for it, after all there are only 8-10 minutes per 60 minute hour to run advertising that PAYS for the rest of the hour, and if you devote 4 minutes a campaign season per hour to campaign ads, that means that the TV station will have to pay for itself with 4-6 minutes of advertising, meaning that ad rates will sky rocket. Meaning that the purchasers of those ad will have to boost their prices to compensate for the increased costs, meaning that "Cats" has to pay more for his/her Big Mac or Porsche.....

Now explain to me why ahving to pay more for a Big Mac is such a great idea agian or that the ad for Giuliani/Clinton was in any way "Free."
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I think it’s wrong for the parties to be funded by the states or national governments to hold primaries, either directly or indirectly: this is really just a mechanism for excluding smaller parties. The states effectively run the primaries for the major parties. That’s just wrong.
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
I think it’s wrong for the parties to be funded by the states or national governments to hold primaries, either directly or indirectly: this is really just a mechanism for excluding smaller parties. The states effectively run the primaries for the major parties. That’s just wrong.

Jeff you say that as a member of a minor party, I’m betting...dude it’s your choice to be a part of the Natural Law Party or the Conservaitve Party of New York. Join the Dark Side, get some people elected, then you’ll see that non-minor parties have some advantages, certainly the after election parties are more lavish and generally more fun, as they often have something to celebrate, rather than saying "Rats lost as usual. Amd why can’t they report how many votes the Green Party got?"

And really do states fund primaries that much?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
So number 1 causes number 2
*Tense voice* "Who - does - # - 2 - work - for???!!!"

Could not pass on the Austin Powers reference. I’ll go finish the rest of the post now ;-)
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
Well, you could simply get rid of the primaries. I know that’s controversial and would be "less democracy," but maybe we would get more citizen candidates.

How would we get these candidates?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I think national party-run primaries are the best idea. Let each political party choose in what order it wants to run primaries. If one party thinks it will select the candidate with the most appeal by one method, and the other party thinks its method will work better, let them do what they want. It’s the national party that has the greatest, unadulterated incentive to produce a candidate who can win.

If you leave it up to the states, they respectively don’t care if the date they choose leads to the best candidate being chosen. They only care about being pandered to, and will likely choose a very early date to garner national attention or choose to go in a bloc like the Super Tuesday states.

If I were running a national party, and we had national party-run primaries, I would set up my primaries in such a way that the first tests would be in the high-value (i.e., most electoral votes) moderate/battleground states that I most want to win. If a candidate can’t woo the battleground states with lots of electoral votes, like Ohio or Florida, he or she is going to be a liability in the general election.

Get that out of the way before the delegate race heats up, and you can weed out the people who (despite your best intentions) are too far out of the mainstream to win the election for you.

Sure, Candidate X wins the party primary in California, but who cares? Everyone knows which way California’s going in the next election. Instead, I’d guess that parties would choose to order their primaries to weed out candidates who couldn’t woo the most important states by electoral vote weight and competitiveness.

Say you’re the Democrats after 2004...
* Once you’re done with the big boys in Ohio (20) and Florida (27) and Pennsylvania (21),
* then test out your candidates in very close (but less weighty) states like Iowa (7), New Hampshire (4), Wisconsin (10), and New Mexico (5), to see if you can lock those in this time,
* then in slightly less close states like Michigan (17), Oregon (7), Minnesota (10), Nevada (5) and perhaps Colorado (9).
* Then perhaps you have another stage of primaries all over the South (up through Missouri and Kentucky and West Virginia), just in case you have a candidate who can break into the Southern stronghold and pick up a bunch of votes there.
* Then the rest of the states.

If the first stage is a rout, the primary is practically over; that’s 68 delegates in battleground states. A candidate who proves himself very popular in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania deserves the ticket. If it goes to the second stage, your candidates have to prove they’ll be the most attractive to the states that were extremely close in the last election, which is often going to decide the election for you (26 more electoral votes). If things still aren’t decided, the third stage will probably do it (48 electoral votes). Nobody hangs on after this point unless it’s fairly well split and they’re a Democrat banking on taking the South by storm (unlikely).

The idea here is to weed out the long shots by seeing who will do best in the battleground states and pick up on the margins what you almost had last time. Your candidates won’t waste their breath running as far away from the center as possible in the primaries, only to have to work their way back to the center for the general election to win those battleground states. Risking losing the general election just so we can see who’s more doctrinaire is ridiculous.

If you give it to the national parties, they’ll try different systems out in an effort to produce a candidate who has the greatest appeal. If they screw up one cycle (maybe they held the primaries too early this time, and/or chose the wrong order of states to hold them in to select the most competitive candidate possible), they might change it up for the next election, trying to make the primary work for them.

To the extent that anyone has faith in democracy, it seems to me this’d be the best way to get candidates that the people of this country really like most.
 
Written By: Bryan Pick
URL: http://www.qando.net
Should we have a national primary day
Base it on geographic zones: figure put 5 or 6 of them, and have each zone hold their primaries on one day, the next day is another zone and so on.

Or just draw the winners names out of a hat.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
So number 1 causes number 2
*Tense voice* "Who - does - # - 2 - work - for???!!!"

Could not pass on the Austin Powers reference. I’ll go finish the rest of the post now ;-)
You missed a great chance to make a Prisoner reference...
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
So number 1 causes number 2
*Tense voice* "Who - does - # - 2 - work - for???!!!"

Could not pass on the Austin Powers reference. I’ll go finish the rest of the post now ;-)
You missed a great chance to make a Prisoner reference...
Heh ... I knew when I wrote it you guys wouldn’t be able to leave it alone despite my warning.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I think the best approach would be a national primary in February, but with a majority required. If no candidate gets a majority, a second primary is held in April between the top two votegetters.

Or, even better, do what Louisiana does. Just have all candidates from all parties thrown into a single pot in November 2008, and the top two face each other in December, assuming no one wins a majority. We’d also have to push inauguration day back to March again.
 
Written By: Adam Herman
URL: http://francoisworld.blogspot.com
I have decided that unless the primary system is changed, it is a waste of time to vote in it. IA and NH pick the candidates anyway. By the time the primaries get to my state, all the best, yet poorer,candidates have dropped out. Our choices for president are limited to either those born into money, or those skilled in fundraising, neither of which necessarily makes a good leader. With the advent of television and the internet, there is no reason not to have a national primary.
 
Written By: Lori
URL: http://

 
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