Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Primary Matters: A Quick Guide to How the Major Parties Pick Their Presidential Candidates

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Primary Matters: A Quick Guide to How the Major Parties Pick Their Presidential Candidates

Article excerpt

There are eight Democrats and eight Republicans running for President, but probably not for long. As voters cast ballots in primaries and caucuses--and with 21 states voting on February 5--nominees for both parties will probably emerge in the next couple of months. That's tong before the parties will make it all official, at next summer's conventions.

HOW DID THE PRIMARY SYSTEM COME ABOUT?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, politicians and officials chose presidential candidates at party conventions. Progressives began promoting primaries in the late 1800s, saying party bosses were cutting backroom deals to pick nominees. The first presidential primaries occurred in the early 1900s, but it wasn't until after World War II that they began to play a significant role in choosing candidates.

HOW DO PRIMARIES WORK?

With states voting separately, voters select their favorite candidate for their party's nomination. The state's delegates are allocated based on the results; they go to the convention, and formally pick the nominee. A Democratic candidate needs 2,104 out of 4,206 delegates to win the nomination; a Republican candidate needs 1,191 of 2,380 delegates.

WHAT ABOUT CAUCUSES?

Some states, like Iowa, have caucuses rather than primaries. In caucuses, party voters generally gather at the district or precinct level to choose among delegates representing the various candidates.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE CONVENTIONS?

In recent years, one candidate has collected enough delegates in early primaries to all but guarantee the nomination. But tight races are possible in both parties this time, which could lead to convention fights for either or both nominations.

WHY ARE IOWA AND NEW HAMPSHIRE SO IMPORTANT?

In a word: tradition. Since 1952, the New Hampshire primary has been the first big test of presidential hopefuls. The Iowa caucuses--held before the New Hampshire vote--began to gain clout in the 1970s. This year, other states have moved up their votes to increase their influence, but Iowa and New Hampshire have guarded their early-vote status.

WHO VOTES WHEN

1976 JIMMY CARTER'S victory in Iowa sets him on the road to the White House and puts the state's caucuses on the campaign map as a key contest.

1992 After coming in second in New Hampshire, BILL CLINTON sweeps the South, with big wins in Texas and Florida.

2000 After getting trounced in New Hampshire, GEORGE W. BUSH wins big in South Carolina, the first Southern state to vote.

* STATES WITH EARLY PRIMARIES/CAUCUSES

* STATES VOTING ON FEB. 5

* STATES VOTING AFTER FEB. 5

NOTES: DATES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. * STATE IN WHICH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS VOTE ON DIFFERENT DAYS ONLY EARLIER DATES ARE GIVEN.

** LIKELY DATE OF PRIMARY.

SOURCES: NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SECRETARIES OF STATE; THE NEW YORK TIMES

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION Aug. 25-28, Denver, Colorado

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION Sept. 1-4, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

2008 DEMOCRATIC PARTY CANDIDATES

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

Senator from Delaware

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

Senator from New York

CHRISTOPHER J. DODD

Senator from Connecticut

JOHN EDWARDS

Former Senator from North Carolina

MIKE GRAVEL

Former Senator from Alaska

DENNIS J. …

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