Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Big States Moving Toward Early Primaries

From E.J. Dionne:

Fearing that California will bigfoot its way into dominance by moving its primary to Feb. 5, 2008, Illinois, Florida and New Jersey are maneuvering to do exactly the same thing. Thus would this diverse group of states give its voters a say just two weeks after the New Hampshire primary, three weeks after the Iowa caucuses, and also close to the contests in Nevada and South Carolina, which the Democrats have moved up in their order of battle. ...

What should surprise us is that the big states did not move years ago to enhance their role in picking the nominees.

California was once a giant in the process. In the 1964 Republican primary, Barry Goldwater narrowly defeated Nelson Rockefeller and set the GOP on the rightward course it has pursued since. In 1972, California Democrats voted for George McGovern over Hubert Humphrey, confirming the importance of the antiwar forces in the party. Since then, California's influence has been exercised largely by the people who can afford the fundraising parties at mansions in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Moreover, the bulk of the states talking about moving their primaries forward promise to enhance the influence of two groups largely left out of the current process: the voters in big cities and the vast group of suburban and exurban citizens so decisive to the outcomes of general elections. ...

It's time the polyglot cities and the great exurban tracts gain a voice commensurate with their importance to the nation.

And it's time that our candidates get tested early by broader electorates. Was it really good for the country that South Carolina's Republicans put an effective end to the battle between George W. Bush and John McCain so early in 2000, on Feb. 19 to be exact? Was it helpful that the Democratic battle between Al Gore and Bill Bradley that same year effectively ended after New Hampshire voted on Feb. 1, or that John Kerry wasn't tested harder in more places after his Jan. 27, 2004, victory there?

The revolt of the big states may not slow the process and might even enhance the importance of the outcomes in Iowa, New Hampshire and the two other early states. But by forcing themselves forward, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida (and who knows who else?) will definitely let many more voters, and many more kinds of voters, in on an important choice. The legislatures in those states should ignore the complaints and let their people join the action.

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