Sunday, January 20, 2008

The primary process needs to be overhauled

As the race to win the presidency continues, there are lots of conclusions that can already be drawn.

Perhaps the most important conclusion is that Iowa and New Hampshire have way too much power when it comes to setting the tone for the campaign.

In both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, candidates spent weeks canvassing the states with the hope of starting the presidential campaign with a bang.

Since then, the campaign has moved on to other states, but the power these two states have should concern us.

After all, candidates spent more than $50 million in those two states. That is a staggering sum even by the extravagant standards of today.

For weeks, candidates trudged through the cold and snow to press the flesh with as many people as possible. For the folks in those states, it must have been a wonderful experience.

Voters in very few states have the opportunity the folks there have. Candidates walk through diners and have rallies in high school gymnasiums so the chance to get close to one of them is a lot better than most places. Here in Tennessee, candidates will likely not venture outside of the big cities while campaigning.

The Iowa and New Hampshire results have played a big role in defining which candidates have momentum and are serious contenders.

So, this begs the obvious question: Should these states have this much power?

When compared to the demographics of the rest of the country, these two states aren't much like the rest of the nation. Both states are predominantly white with small black and Hispanic populations.

The states are mostly rural with no huge metropolitan areas yet the one million voters of those two states often play the role of king (or queen) maker before the other 200 million eligible voters get a chance.

Of course, the media onslaught in those states doesn't help. After Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won in Iowa, the media saturated the airwaves with news of his momentum and backed it up with polls that predicted he might win New Hampshire by more than 10 percent.

In contrast, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was getting buried by the press who was reporting that her campaign was in big trouble and might be permanently derailed with a loss. She almost cried at one point.

Of course, that did not happen. Clinton won New Hampshire so the storyline shifted, and she became the "comeback kid" of the campaign. I don't really understand how a candidate can be a "comeback kid" after only one primary, but that is how the media spun her victory.

So, what can be done about the power these two small states have? There have been many suggestions regarding how the primary system can be re-structured.

Perhaps the best idea is for our country to go to a regional primary system, which was recently discussed in detail by USA Today. Under this system, voters in certain regions would all vote on the same day.

For example, the country could be divided into four separate regions: the Northeast, South, Midwest and West.

Primaries in each region would be held on the first Tuesday of the month in April, May, June and July.

To eliminate the possibility of one region having too much influence (like Iowa and New Hampshire do right now), there would be a rotation so no region would vote first in consecutive elections. For example, the Northeast could vote first in one presidential primary election. Then, the South could vote first in the following election and so forth.

The bottom line is a system like this would improve the primary system and provoke candidates into campaigning in more states instead of devoting so much time to Iowa and New Hampshire.

This proposed change is not meant to show disrespect to those two states. Their voters are to be commended for taking their votes so seriously.

However, other states deserve just as much attention as they get from candidates, and that is not happening right now.

Tennessee's primary is only two-and-a-half weeks away. How many visits from candidates (other than Fred Thompson who is a Tennessean) can you recall?

Not many, I bet.

And that is the problem.

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