When California formally enacted legislation last week moving its 2008 presidential primary to February 5, it took a big step towards making that day not only by far the earliest and most massive Super Tuesday in history, but perhaps a de facto national primary that would almost certainly end the nominating process for both parties.
Today’s New York Times has a handy-dandy chart listing the 8 states already scheduled for a February 5 (AL, AR, AZ, CA, DE, MO, OK and UT), the 8 additional states considered likely to go there next (FL, IL, KS, NJ, NM, NY, NC, and TX), and 6 more that are thinking seriously about it (CO, GA, MI, MT, RI and TN). On the Democratic side, if all 22 states went on February 5, they would award 59% of all 2008 delegates, nearly double the prize for the end-it-all 2004 Super Tuesday, and also nearly a month earlier.
This, folks, is simply crazy. February 5 is nine months before the general election, and roughly six months before the nominating conventions. The heavily front-loaded 2004 schedule was rationalized by some Democrats as necessary to give the nominee time to take on an incumbent; there’s no such excuse for the far more front-loaded 2008 calendar. It virtually guarantees that three factors—money, name ID, and success in the earliest states, especially Iowa—will determine the outcome. And it may well snuff any serious chance for the lower-tier candidates in both parties, who must now somehow simultaneously combine relentless campaigning in Iowa with the massive fundraising necessary to compete in the incredibly expensive February 5 landscape.
Most importantly, the emerging calendar will provide zero opportunity for second thoughts after the early rush has anointed nominees. It could be a very long spring, summer and autumn if a nominee commits some major blunder, or some disabling skeleton jumps out of a closet.
For Democrats, the only silver lining is that their top-tier candidates are probably closer to being bullet-proof than those on the other side. Giuliani and McCain are very weak front-runners at this point, but with no one else appearing in position to catch fire rapidly, GOPers may get stuck with one of them in much the same way that they shrugged and unenthusiastically nominated Bob Dole in 1996.
But there’s no doubt that this crazy early national primary represents a failure of national Democratic leadership. A revolt against the Iowa/New Hampshire duopoly that emerged right after the 2004 elections led to a weak and ultimately counter-productive “solution”: allowing one state (NV) to move between IA and NH, and another (SC) to move up to right after NH. This had the effect of honking off NH, which could produce an even greater calamity by moving its primary ahead of IA (probably spurring an insane competition that could move the whole process into this year), while luring half the country into moving up to the “window” right after SC. Meanwhile, IA’s more important than ever.
You can’t really blame the individual states for this happening; it’s a classic apes-on-a-treadmill situation. What could have happened, and what should happen before the next go-around, is a truly national approach. Whether it’s a lottery, or a carefully matched series of states around the country, or regional primaries, or just the kind of spread-out process that prevailed until recently, it could be imposed by the DNC through a combination of (a) strict rules against seating of delegates chosen outside the calendar guidelines, and (b) an aggressive effort to recruit all candidates in advance to support the decision, with ejection from DNC-sponsored debates, or if necessary, a ban on speaking opportunities at the Convention, being the stick.
But if we don’t get seriously angry about this abomination right now, we’re going to find ourselves in the same situation four and eight years from now. --