The Delaware Plan
In recent elections, citizens have become increasingly dismayed with the workings of the presidential nomination process. The Delaware Plan is one of several reform alternatives to the current system proposed in recent years. The Delaware Plan had the potential to succeed and replace the current system, but it never reached fruition. Its greatest accomplishment, perhaps, is that it opened the floor for a discussion of viable alternatives, such as the American Plan.

Why is there a need for change?

The first-in-the-nation status of New Hampshire and Iowa can no longer be taken for granted. Proponents of reform argue that these two states monopolize the media coverage and campaign attention in the primary process and effectively determine the presidential candidate for each party. The force behind this claim lies in the fact that, with only two exceptions in the last 56 years, the winner of the presidency has carried the first primary in New Hampshire.

A deeper concern is that these two states are largely homogenous and fail to represent the diversity of the nation.

The case to maintain the current system, primarily supported by leaders in New Hampshire and Iowa, relies on the fact that the citizens of those states and the media within them are better able to handle the responsibility of holding the first primaries.

These opponents to change claim that citizens in New Hampshire and Iowa take politics very seriously and are accustomed to serving as the filter for the presidential nomination process.

They assert that the current system is beneficial because it allows candidates without extensive funds to succeed in small, yet highly influential primaries.

They argue that under alternative systems, only the rich and famous would be able to secure the nomination.

Unfortunately, states eager to catch a piece of the primary action have begun frontloading the primary schedule. Over 20 states plan to hold primaries on February 5, with several other states scheduled to vote throughout January. The repercussions of frontloading are:

1. A compact primary schedule that leaves the lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates at a disadvantage by denying them adequate time to raise money and create a campaign buzz.

2. Americans must endure an extra long, extra expensive presidential campaign.

3. Front-loading also increases the extent to which the rest of the country is disenfranchised by establishing the winner of the party nomination before half of the states get to vote.

4. The quality of media coverage is compromised because they treat the election as over following Super Tuesday on February 5th .

What is the Delaware Plan?

The Delaware Plan relies on "backloading" the primary schedule, that is, allowing less populated states to go first and the most populated to go last, to avoid the negative outcomes discussed above. The Delaware Plan involves four "pods" or sets of primaries during which a section of states may hold their primary elections. Beginning the first Tuesday in March, the pods vote 30 days apart as follows:

POD 1: American Samoa, Virgin Islands, Guam, Wyoming, District of Columbia, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Puerto Rico. Population total: 14.8 million.

POD 2: Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, West Virginia, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Carolina. Population total: 33.5 million.

POD 3: Kentucky, Colorado, Alabama, Louisiana, Arizona, Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Missouri, Washington, Indiana, Massachusetts. Population total: 64.9 million.

POD 4: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New York, Texas, California. Population total: 160.6 million.


States within a particular pod may vote at any time during the appointed month. They may move their primaries later in the schedule beyond the appointed month, but not earlier.

What are the merits of this set-up?

The purpose of the pod set-up is to allow the least populated states to vote first and thus wield influence over the primary campaigns, while the more populated states vote last.

The states voting towards the end of the schedule maintain significant influence over the primary process because of the large number of delegates that large states have to offer.

The gradual escalation of population size allows candidates without extensive campaign funds to build momentum from the smaller, earlier primaries so that he or she can potentially succeed in the larger primaries. The aim is to weaken the connection between big money and campaign success and to maintain public engagement throughout the primary season.

Since over 50% of the delegates would be decided in the final pod, the early states would not have the power to decide the candidacy. However, they would help grassroots campaign to flourish and allow lesser-known candidates a reasonable chance. They would have the ability to influence the direction of the primary season, and the power to thrust notable candidates and unlikely dark horses to the forefront of the race, but would not decide the ultimate outcome.

One added advantage of lengthening the primary season is that it gives the voters more time to evaluate the candidates, while also giving the candidates time to reach out to a more diverse collection of states instead of just the swing states or the traditional early primary states.

Spacing out the pods in 30-day intervals relieves some of the pressure to raise massive amounts of money in very short periods of time. A worthy candidate without adequate means to continue a 4-month campaign can rely on donors as he or she carries the smaller primaries.

What are the potential drawbacks of the Delaware Plan?

The pods consist of geographically separated states, which could force candidates to focus on a few particular markets within each pod.

Since the pods do not change, every election will likely favor the same few, more viable states within each pod. This would alienate the majority of the country, which is one of the problems the proposal is meant to solve.

On the other hand, the geographic distribution of the pod set-up could create four mini-national campaigns. It would be difficult for a campaign to concentrate efforts in any one place, so instead it might opt to wage an impersonal mini-national media campaign. Inundating states with a media campaign is an expensive strategy, which could spoil the chances of success for under-funded, yet worthy candidates.

An additional problem stemming for the geographic dispersion relates to the news cycle. Due to time differences, the East Coast news cycle airs hours before the West Coast. Campaign strategies might focus on the East Coast states so that news of the primary victors is known well before the polls close on the West Coast. This added publicity would reduce the attention paid to Western states.

How did the Delaware Plan come about?

The origins of the Delaware Plan trace back to a similar proposal for changing the primary system, the Small States First - Large States Last (SSF-LSL) plan. Robert D. Loevy first proposed the SSF-LSL plan in his 1992 book /The Flawed Path to the Presidential Selection Process/. He perfected and expanded upon the plan in his 1998 follow-up, /The Manipulated Path to the White House; Maximizing advantage in the Presidential Selection Process/. In 1996, Loevy discussed the plan with member and future chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jim Nicholson.

The SSF-LSL plan consists of an elimination system, similar to a sports play-off. In each of five sets of primaries, scheduled two weeks apart, the winning candidates move on to the next set while the losing candidates drop out of the race. In the final primaries, only two candidates remain. The winner is then decided by the most populous states that vote at the end of the primary schedule.

The SSF-LSL plan was presented in 1999 to the Republican Party’s Advisory Commission on the Presidential Nominating Process. The Commission sent out a questionnaire to Republican leaders asking for additional reform proposals. Basil Battaglia, the Delaware Republican State Chairperson, and Richard Forsten, the General Counsel of the Delaware Republican Party, proposed a plan based on population to benefit smaller states like Delaware.

Battaglia and Forsten's plan set out five two-week intervals of primaries where sets of ten states vote based on reverse order of population. In early 2000, their plan was presented at a meeting of the Rules Committee of the Republican National Committee in San Jose, California. It was adjusted to incorporate some aspects of the SSF-LSL plan, and, by mid-2000, it was known as the Delaware Plan.

The perfected Delaware Plan involved four one-month intervals where the smallest states vote first and the largest states vote last. Former Senator and head of the Republican Commission Bill Brock proposed the plan under the guise of the “Brock Plan,” claiming that it “would encourage more voter contact with the candidates and would move the nation away from a system that is fundamentally dominated by too much emphasis on money and media.”

Why didn’t the Delaware Plan succeed?

The Delaware Plan faced opposition from the larger states, which feared that the primary schedule would eliminate their influence on the nomination process. Republicans were also weary of the Plan because if it was not adopted by the Democratic Party, Democrats would be able to nominate a candidate months before Republicans, giving them extra time to raise funds and campaign. Despite these concerns, the Delaware Plan was expected to succeed in debate by the Rules Committee at the Republican Advisory Commission. The Plan came to a halt when a spokesperson for President George W. Bush publicly opposed the Plan, hours before it was set for debate. Republicans could not support the Plan given President Bush’s opposition; so, amid disappointment, the essentially defeated Delaware Plan was debated merely for academic purposes.

How does the Delaware Plan compare to the American Plan?

The near-success of the Delaware Plan opened up the debate for alternative reform proposals , such as the American Plan . The American Plan aims to accomplish the same results as the Delaware Plan by backloading the primary schedule. However, unlike the static order of the Delaware Plan, the American Plan allows the schedule to change with each election, giving different states an opportunity to wield additional influence over the presidential nomination process.

The American Plan, more commonly known as the California Plan, features a schedule consisting of 10 two-week intervals, during which randomly selected states may hold their primaries or caucuses, with a gradual increase in the total population of states and territories holding primaries/caucuses. This 20-week schedule is weighted based on each state's number of congressional districts. American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, which also send delegates to both national conventions, are each counted as one district in this system.

In the first interval, a randomly determined combination of states with a combined total of eight congressional districts would hold their primaries, caucuses, or conventions. In the second period--two weeks later--the eligibility number would increase to 16. Every two weeks, the combined size of the contests would grow by eight congressional districts, until a combination of states totaling 80 congressional seats (8 x 10)--nearly one-fifth of the total--would be up for grabs in the tenth and last interval at the end of June. What ordinarily would be the 7th primary date would be switched with the 4th primary date, to give all the big states a chance at having an earlier primary. As the political stakes increased every two weeks, a steady weeding-out process would occur, as less successful campaigns reached the point at which they were no longer competitive in these larger contests.

The American Plan has the same merits of the Delaware Plan by putting the weight of larger states’ votes towards the end of the primary season. It has the additional benefits of giving various smaller states the opportunity to vote first and not consistently positioning the largest states at the end of the schedule. Similar to the Delaware Plan, the American Plan enables retail politicking in the smaller primaries and gives lesser-known candidates the opportunity to build momentum by carrying the smaller states first. Although the Delaware Plan in effect has been laid to rest, the American Plan has the potential to succeed in overhauling the current primary system.

Additional Resources
- Excellent article by Robert D. Loevy on the history and content of the Delaware Plan
- Editorial by Mark Shields supporting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status - Website for the American Plan by Ops-Alaska - Comprehensive report on the primary system and potential reforms and recommendations - Report on the implications of frontloading the primaries
- Comparison chart of the Delaware, American, and Rotating Regional Primary Plans
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