Magazine article Tikkun

Small States, High Stakes: Primary Considerations

Magazine article Tikkun

Small States, High Stakes: Primary Considerations

Article excerpt

Small States, High Stakes: Primary Considerations

Paul Simon

Paul Simon, former senator from Illinois, is the director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, (www.siu.edu/~ppi/).

There are few issues that have equal appeal to people in both political parties or attract equal antagonism, but one that does fall in that category is how we conduct our presidential primaries. There is substantial sentiment that we should have regional primaries or a national primary rather than giving so much weight to Iowa and New Hampshire. Although this idea has superficial appeal to all of us in the other forty-eight states, the reality is that regional primaries or a national one would increase the dominance of money and bring other problems.

One evolving alternative to the proposals for regional or national primaries is called the "Delaware Plan," in which the ten states with the smallest populations (Delaware being one of them) would hold their primaries first. The next ten in population would follow a week later, and the process would continue until all fifty states were covered, leaving the final decision in the hands of the ten most populous states. This suggestion is only a modest improvement over simply having regional or national primaries. To be forced to face an initial primary day that takes you from Delaware to Wyoming, reaching out to people in ten states, would require considerable financing--and since the type of candidate time allotment that occurs in Iowa and New Hampshire would not be possible, we would be back to taking questions from reporters at airport press conferences. And back to big money.

When people argue that Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the nation, they have a valid point. Nationally about 12 percent of our population is African American; in Iowa it is 2 percent and in New Hampshire less than one percent. Latinos comprise 11.6 percent of our nation's population; in Iowa it is 2 percent and in New Hampshire it is 1.5 percent. But many concerns are shared across racial lines, issues such as health care, employment, crime, and access to education. Iowa and New Hampshire force candidates to go into homes and talk to people who cannot pay a hospital bill or who cannot get a job because of a slight disability. New Hampshire and Iowa require at least a little retail politics, something more than the sophisticated thirty-second commercial, something more than simply answering questions from reporters at press conferences or carefully structured "spontaneous" visits to a school or hospital or backyard barbecue at someone's home.

A regional or national primary would be nine-tenths television commercials and one-tenth airport press conferences or carefully staged events. Candidates and their managers know that if the would-be presidential nominee shows up at a bowling alley to roll a few balls, all the cameras will be there. Staff aides arrange for "the right people" to be using the other lanes so that when the camera switches from the candidate to comments from other bowlers, laudatory comments about their candidate will emerge and make the evening news. Of course those TV commercials and staged events require money; whoever has the most of it will probably win, unless you start out from ground zero politically as Steve Forbes did. Massive primaries would compound the systemic money abuses that already plague us.

TIKKUN readers with unusually good memories may recall that I was part of the 1988 fray for the Democratic presidential nomination. I entered somewhat late, having endorsed Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas who decided not to run. While the other hopefuls had crisscrossed Iowa many times, and spent considerable time there, I had not done that. Nor did I have the financing of some of the seven candidates--dubbed "the seven dwarfs" by the media--but I came in a close second on caucus night. NBC later stated that I perhaps did win. …

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