Primary Objection

February 27, 2007

At the risk of getting my Garden State privileges revoked, I have to say that the idea of moving New Jersey’s primary election to an earlier date is not only futile, it’s downright destructive. If you’re happy with the influence of big money in presidential politics, then the lemming rush of states rescheduling their primaries for the earliest months possible ought to have you smiling from ear to ear. But if you’re a progressive who wants to level the playing field, or at least decrease the angle of the slope, then you should be doing everything you can to block this movement in New Jersey and everywhere else in the country.

As this article notes, we are well on the way to seeing something like 30 states with primaries scheduled in January or February 2008. That will be a terrible situation. It will magnify the clout of candidates with big war chests and the means to snap up plenty of television ad time. It will increase the burden on insurgent, grassroots candidates who are having trouble making themselves heard in the din. It will increase the odds of a bad candidate getting through through sheer short-term momentum. There’s no upside for democracy in this.

I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but New Jersey is never going to play the role of kingmaker in a presidential race. But if that miracle should occur, it won’t be because we scrambled to to shoehorn our primary in alongside California and scores of other states. It will be because the primary race is tight, no candidate has been able to break out of the pack, and suddenly every little state counts. Say what you will about New Hampshire and Iowa, but they are small states where candidates can cover every corner in person and actually talk to the people they want to govern.

Primaries are the time for democracies to do their heavy lifting. Once the nominations are nailed down, the election hardens and turns into getting-out-the-vote drives while the two nominees jockey for advantage. I like a long primary season. It gives me a chance to see the contenders in action. It gives us all the opportunity to kick the tires and check up on gas mileage. God forbid, it even creates the opportunity for a few new issues to be aired. Do you hate the way general elections have turned into vapid mud-slinging fests? Then get ready for what amounts to a seven-month general election after the front-loaded primary season is effectively over and the nominating conventions have turned into mere formalities.

If I had the power to change anything, I would establish a system in which primaries move up and down the calendar on a random basis — New Jersey up one year, Mississippi the next. Mix things up, make the candidates work for every square inch of the Union. The 50-state strategy is more than a way to reinvigorate the Democratic Party; it’s a tonic to revitalize democracy.

Since that is impossible, I would just as soon see New Jersey remove itself from the sheep stampede that is helping carry democracy off the cliff.

2 Responses to “Primary Objection”

  1. Rix Says:

    It’s frightening to think the two candidates might be chosen by this time next year.

  2. Scott Stiefel Says:

    Iowa: 3 million people
    New Hampshire: 1.4 million
    New Jersey: 8.8 million
    Yeah – definitely overloaded.

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