Are Primaries Going West?

Article excerpt

IN AN EARLY bid to affect the 2008 race, the DNC is floating a primary reform proposal that it hopes will address the system's shortcomings. But is it enough?

On March 11, the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee voted in favor of a proposal set forth earlier by its Commission on Presidential Nomination, Timing and Scheduling that would expand the presidential nomination process with the intention of creating a more level playing field. Refomers hope to pull in greater numbers of minorities and labor constituents and mitigate the phenomenon of "front-loading"-a high concentration of early scheduled contests-by offering bonus delegates to those states that wait to hold their primaries.

Increased front-loading means that nominations are secured before most Americans have had the chance to vote at all. The University of Virginia's Center for Politics found that in the run-up to the 2000 election, George W. Bush and Al Gore had "all but locked up" their respective nominations by March 7-before voters in 33 states cast their ballots.

The DNC's solution is anything but radical, but it has raised the ire of New Hampshire's political elite. Under the proposal, Iowa would remain the first caucus, and New Hampshire the first primary, but there would be one or two "diverse caucuses" wedged in between. The plan also calls for possibly adding one or two primaries before the date after which any state may schedule a vote-currently set at February 5-but after New Hampshire.

The reforms aim to change a nomination system that rewards aggressive fundraising, media pandering and mindless handshaking in a handful of non-representative states.

Decrying what they call the "perpetual privilege" of Iowa and New Hampshire, Commission member Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and the Michigan Democratic Party had originally called for a series of six regional primaries (later modified to four), with a different region launching each presidential nominating season. "We shouldn't have a rule that some states are more equal than others," Levin told the DNC commission.

Since the DNC's announcement, state representatives from Florida to Oregon have scrambled to stake their claim to the early primaries. By April 20, just six weeks after approving the measure, the DNC had reviewed presentations from 11 states and the District of Columbia.

As it stands, the problems with the current delegate selection process can be traced to an aberrant relationship that emerged between candidates and the mainstream press following a 1969 decision by the two parties to shift to a system of state primaries and caucuses. …