If 2008 is a lost cause, parties need to act to salvage 2012
Since then, this gag has gotten less funny. Florida has moved its primary from March 11 to Jan. 29; earlier this week, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Gran- holm signed a law that will push the Wolverine State's Democratic primary from February to Jan. 15. (The state might also hold a caucus on Feb. 9, but it's unclear which of these contests would send delegates to the convention.)
Because Iowa and New Hampshire hold the nominating process hostage, parties let those states host the first consequential contests in each election cycle. It's understandable, though, that residents of big states want their votes to count, too. But Michigan's shift could push Iowa and New Hampshire into early January.
The Democratic National Committee said it would not recognize Florida's delegation at the convention in Denver next year - if the Sunshine State stays with its late January primary. The party could do the same to Michigan, should it select its convention delegates Jan. 15.
The Democratic and Republican hierarchies can certainly penalize states in that manner if they choose to do so. The national parties control who votes at their conventions. But we're not sure the DNC will stick to its guns and snub these key, heavily populated states.
At some point, this front-loading has to stop. And if it's too late to stop the madness for 2008, it's not too early to consider how to bring sense to it in 2012. To be blunt, it's time for the national parties to wrest control of the primaries and caucuses from state affiliates.
Both parties may have to formally adopt rules like the one the DNC did with Florida: If you tinker with the primary calendar, we won't seat your delegation.
That's harsh, but there are also ways to encourage states to cooperate with a later primary schedule. More than a decade ago, Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy proposed holding five sets of primaries, two weeks apart, beginning in May, with the smallest states voting first, and then the next-largest states, and so on.
The Republican National Committee almost adopted a similar plan in 2000, but backed off when large states objected.
A more palatable alternative is embodied in S. 1905, now before Congress. It would establish rotating regional primaries and caucuses. Iowa and New Hampshire would still go first, but the rest of the nation would be divided into four regions, and each would stage primaries or caucuses, one region per month, beginning in March. A different region would go first in each election cycle.
The eventual nominees might not be known until mid-June, which for more than a century has offered plenty of time to stage an informative presidential campaign.
Congress cannot compel state parties to follow such arrangements because they're private organizations. But if its prodding is followed by strong pledges by the parties to strip nominating delegates from any state that deviates from the schedule, the plan just might work. Something's got to be done to stop the insanity of a perpetual campaign.