Are We Headed For a "National Primary" on Feb. 5, 2008?
Here's a chilling thought. Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, has a post on Real Clear Politics suggesting that the first Tuesday in February may become a de facto "national primary," determining the presidential nominees six months before the nominating conventions begin and nine months before the election.
It used to be that long-shot candidates could use early victories in smaller (and therefore less expensive) states to build their fundraising and organizations and vault themselves into contention in later large-state primaries. (The last best example is probably Jimmy Carter in 1976). However, the national parties don't really control the schedule, and large states have long resented the prominence given to New Hampshire and Iowa as the traditional kick-off smaller states. As interest and voter turnout in late primaries have dwindled in recent election cycles, more and more states have moved their primaries forward.
The Democratic National Committee tinkered with the traditional lineup as well this past year, moving the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary up into the same January time frame as the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. The rest of the states are supposed to take their places in a "window" that starts with the first Tuesday in February. That would make the basic framework for 2008 as follows:
Jan. 14: Iowa caucuses (both parties)However, the framework is not stable. New Hampshire is threatening to move its primary earlier. Several states have threatened to move their primaries earlier than Febuary 5th, although they are unlikely to do so because the national parties have said that they won't recognize delegates chosen in such primaries. And, a number of large states are all determined to move up to February 5th (including California, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, and Illinois), joining more than a half dozen already scheduled for that date (including Arizona, North Carolina and Missouri).
Jan. 19: Nevada caucuses (Democrats)
Jan. 22: New Hampshire primary (both parties)
Jan. 29: South Carolina primary (Democrats)
Feb. 2: South Carolina Primary (Republicans)
Feb. 5: One or more other states, followed by the rest on later dates.
That latter development is what Brown writes about. He says we'll know in the next several months whether February 5 will become in effect a national primary that determines the nominees. If so, "long-shot candidates need not apply" because they "won't have the money, organizational support or name recognition to compete in that many states at the same time." To name names:
A de facto national primary would likely help Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and John McCain of Arizona, the presumed front-runners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. They are likely to enter 2008 with more money, higher name recognition and endorsements from state political leaders and interest groups. Their money advantage would allow them to compete - and buy television ads - everywhere, while the endorsements would supply the foot soldiers for their campaigns.Brown suggests that long shot candidates could drop out of the race just a few months from now if state legislatures do in fact put enough primaries on February 5th to make that a make-or-break date. It occurs to me that this situation may have played a big role in the thinking of several promising candidates who have already bowed out, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA).
There are candidates on both sides of the aisle who would be competitive with the front-runners under such a scenario. They include Democrats Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards; and Republicans Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor. They already have the required name recognition (except for Romney) and have demonstrated fund-raising ability.
But there are almost a dozen other potential candidates in the two parties -- senators, congressmen and governors well known in their home states, but strangers to the national electorate -- who would be severely handicapped by a massive Feb. 5 primary.