The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process

By Niall A. Palmer | Go to book overview
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Conclusion: NASS and Beyond

On May 10 and 11, 1996, a special Committee on Presidential Primaries and Caucuses assembled at Washington's Mayflower Hotel. Established by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), the committee comprised twelve secretaries from states including Delaware, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts, Iowa and Minnesota. Assistant secretaries represented the states of Arizona, Maine and Mississippi. The conference was chaired by New Hampshire's secretary of state, William Gardner. For two days, the committee heard representations from its members as well as a variety of party officials, academic observers, journalists and political activists, including Don Fowler, co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former presidential contender Lamar Alexander, GOP strategist and former Reagan adviser Lyn Nofziger, Rhodes Cook, senior political writer for Congressional Quarterly, and Curtis Gans, veteran of the 1968 McCarthy campaign and now director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. 1

The meeting's official purpose was to "receive input and undertake deliberations regarding perceived impacts of 'front-loading' of presidential primaries . . . which emerged in the 1996 presidential primary season."2 The final report, drafted by Arizona's assistant secretary of state Anne Lynch, began by presenting a number of key facts which, it suggested, had created an urgent need for concerted remedial action by state governments and national political parties. Prime among these facts were the chaotic state of primary scheduling, a prospect that was now extending to the 2000 election cycle, and the ongoing efforts by Congress and the Democratic and Republican parties to overhaul the entire presidential nomination system. Furthermore, as Lynch succinctly observed, the candidates themselves "did not like the 1996 process."

The sheer breadth and complexity of the issues under discussion caused initial disagreements concerning the committee's remit. The original intention to debate proposals for reform of a nomination system that all parties agreed was not


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