Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.
To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).
But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?
Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.
Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.
It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.
The GOP is finally starting to get it’s act together. Some of the “headliners” are throwing their hats in the ring for the upcoming primaries. Over the past week, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have officially launched campaigns. They join Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum as officially declared candidates. By this evening we’ll know if Mike Huckabee is running and by the end of the month, we’ll have Donald Trump’s decision. Mitt Romney hasn’t officially declared yet, but he certainly acts as though he’s in the race. Then there are those who are playing coy and may yet run, such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.
Color most rank-and-file Republicans unimpressed by their options. Each of the above carries significant baggage. The staunchest conservatives, such as Palin, Bachmann and Santorum, have negative ratings among the general electorate as high – or higher – than their positives and are generally considered “unelectable.” Romney and Gingrich are know commodities but known for the wrong reasons, namely, they change positions so often they’re perceived as standing for whatever will get them elected. Pawlenty and Huckabee are seen by many Republicans as not being conservative enough. Paul is a libertarian at heart; his stances on drug and foreign policy leave many Republicans cold. Everyone else in the race is a virtual unknown – except for Trump, who’s considered so Loony even Bugs Bunny wouldn’t vote for him.
So, the Republican base is still casting about for their dream candidate: someone who embodies conservative principles, wins in liberal regions and has the national name recognition needed if entering a national race. The names most often floated in conservative circles are Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, governors of New Jersey and Indiana respectively, and Marco Rubio and Col. Allen West, Senator and Representative from Florida respectively. West would be a long-shot; while he meets the first two criteria, he doesn’t have national name recognition.
Of the remaining three, the rank-and-file and power brokers may be coalescing around one potential candidate in particular: Christie. Why Christie? He’s been on the national stage and fought many of the battles that others are now wading into. Public employee unions, school reform, budget reform; check, done all that. Additionally, his blunt speaking style and deft humor have drawn favorable comparisons to another Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, regardless of where you align politically, the man is genuinely likable – the kind of guy the average Joe could picture himself having a beer with after a long day at work.
We’ll soon find out if the rubber is meeting the road here. A delegation of Iowa donors is coming to New Jersey at the end of the month to meet with Christie, presumably to persuade the New Jersey governor to enter the primary campaign. This is unique in recent political memory. Where once the primaries were mere formalities and the actual candidate was selected during the convention, that hasn’t been the case in a couple of generations. This could be the ultimate play for Christie, as well. He’s been adamant about not running for President, despite numerous speaking engagements around the country (including a memorable one in which he lambasted politicians for refusing to acknowledge the need to cut entitlement spending). But if he jumps in at the behest of party and country, then abandoning his first term could actually be cast as a positive: I didn’t want to, but was convinced the country needed me – and I can best serve my state by serving my country. Already, the establishment Republicans are lashing out at Christie, as evidenced by this article I came across. They know if he is in the race, then their chances are immediately dwarfed by a Tea Party darling.
Will Christie answer the siren song sung by the Iowans? Time will tell. And this story won’t be over before the convention, especially if the current field continues to uninspirationally march through the primaries and caucuses of 2012.