Thursday, June 14, 2007

Town Hall Envy

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 585

It no doubt sounded good at the beginning: "We'll move our state's primary up closer to January, and we'll have the same influence in picking a nominee as Iowa and New Hampshire. Candidates will spend time here, meet voters here, and will have to pay attention to our issues, just like they do in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

However, with the bandwagon creaking under the load of so many states moving their primaries ever earlier in the calendar, the flaws in this line of thinking are making themselves increasingly plain. The unintended consequence of all this year's political leapfrogging is that as more states move up their primaries the traditional campaign dynamics that were originally meant to be overthrown are becoming only more entrenched.

The definitive case in point: California. According to an article in today's Los Angeles Times, rather than producing a string of meet and greet town hall-style events, or resulting in candidates spending oodles more time out west, the change in California's primary date has turned out to reinforce the importance of media, rather than personal appearances by candidates at town halls or even large rallies, in reaching voters. Campaigning via television and radio has increased, not decreased. And the main thing that candidates are looking for in the Golden State? It isn't face time with voters - it's campaign cash to spend other financing their ground games in (surprise!) Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Washington Post sums it up rather well:

"Most political observers believe that the newly frontloaded campaign schedule will primarily benefit front-runners who are able to collect the huge sums of cash needed to finance massive television ad campaigns spanning the three weeks between the Iowa caucuses and the large cluster of primaries on Feb. 5. There will also be pressure on candidates to operate costly and exhausting bi-coastal campaigns, to try to simultaneously drive up their numbers in the Northeast and Midwest and in the far West and Southwest.

"The counter-argument to the idea that the new calendar has created a de facto national primary is that with so many expensive states crowded into late January and early February the only possible way for a candidate to reach potential voters is through the blitz of media coverage that traditionally follows a win or stronger than expected showing in Iowa or New Hampshire."

Much has been written about the flaws of having Iowa and New Hampshire exert the influence they do on who becomes president, and many of the arguments for changing the primary system to lessen the influence of these two states have merit. But, as we're beginning to see, changing the political landscape will take more than states acting separately to promote their own clout - and this includes Iowa and New Hampshire - at the expense of others. What is required is a rational, fair, and cooperative approach that balances the competing interests of individual states with the common interests of all. A compromise, in other words. This is politics, after all.


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