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March 12, 2006
Going To War With New Hampshire

The urge of Democrats to tinker with their primary season continues unabated. The Rules and Bylaws Committee has decided to schedule more caucuses ahead of the New Hampshire primary, which by their rules has to hold the first primary election in the party's presidential run. The introduction of more caucuses will dilute the impact of New Hampshire's primary, leading to a threat of escalation by the Granite State:

The Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee yesterday dealt a blow to New Hampshire Democrats hoping to keep their coveted place in the presidential nominating schedule, agreeing by voice vote to a plan that would place one or two caucuses between the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 14, 2008, and the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

The proposal, which grew from recommendations by a commission studying how to make the nominating process more diverse both racially and geographically, would also add one or two primaries after the New Hampshire contest but before Feb. 5 -- the date after which any state is free to schedule a vote. ...

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner has threatened that if a state caucus is added between the Iowa and New Hampshire events, he will simply move up the date of the Granite State vote -- a power granted him by state law. Should Gardner go that route, the DNC could refuse to seat delegates from his state at the 2008 national party convention.

This kerfuffle exemplifies the silliness of the primary system. Both parties front-load their primary system with states like New Hampshire and Iowa, two of the smallest states in terms of population. The egotistical state governments insist on their roles as screeners for the rest of the nation on the validity of primary candidates. Meanwhile, the other 99% of the nation watches as the field narrows artificially.

Rather than directly challenging the ridiculous nature of this system, however, the Democrats make it worse by scheduling one or two caucuses between Iowa's poll and the New Hampshire primary. Why not just declare the entire system broken and replace it with something that makes more sense? Under the circumstances, New Hampshire has a right to be annoyed. After all, the Democrats aren't attempting to reform the system to get a broader participation in the primary process. They want to put another caucus in that first week in order to get better press in the South or the West, or possibly both.

The better effort would be to hold one primary election day for the entire nation. Have all the caucuses anyone wants before then, but the results should not be binding. Schedule the primary for June or July and hold the conventions immediately afterward, giving the candidates and their parties plenty of time to mount a general-election campaign. That way, no one state gets to tank anyone's run for office. Not only will that give all candidates plenty of time and access to nationwide campaigning, but it will also create less pressure for early campaigning. If one national primary day doesn't work, then schedule four regional days in four consecutive weeks.

Otherwise, when states get fed up with Iowa and New Hampshire dictating the slate of candidates for the rest of the nation, we will get the threatened escalation we have now. New Hampshire will move its primary to an earlier date in January, other states will follow suit, and before we know it we'll have to kick off presidential campaigns before the prior midterm elections.

Or perhaps we're already there.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 12, 2006 9:45 AM

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