- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

Presidents Day next February may have a whole new meaning.It’s likely that a third of all presidential primaries and caucuses will be held in the first two months of 2008, which means the parties’ nominees could be known by early February, thanks to an “earlier the better” front-loading strategy emerging on the political landscape.

Critics warn the strategy will bypass many voters and lengthen the general-election campaign well in advance of the November vote.

In the previous primary season, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry effectively nailed down the 2004 Democratic nomination by March 2. But strategists in both parties now say that the nominees next year could be all but chosen by Feb. 5 — when more than a dozen states are considering holding their nominating contests — or by mid-February at the latest.

“We are going to find out who the nominees are a lot sooner than before,” said Art Torres, the Democratic chairman of California. His state recently moved its primary back to Feb. 5.

New Jersey and New York have done the same in a compressed primary movement that is sweeping the country. At least 14 other states appear ready to follow suit, including the mega-states of Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida.

“To get a sense of how quickly” the Democratic nominating process could move by Feb. 5, “total the number of delegates that could be at stake by that time,” Mr. Torres said.

A tally of the number of pledged Democratic delegates up for grabs between Jan. 8 and Feb. 5 could total 2,240 (if all the states follow through on their plans to move up their contests). That’s 58 votes more than is needed to win the nomination.

Not all the states have winner-take-all delegate rules, such as the California Democratic primary would, and much depends on how many viable candidates remain in the nominating race for February and how the delegates are apportioned among the top vote-getters.

Nevertheless, a senior Democratic strategist told The Washington Times, “this is going to move very quickly.”

Big names, big boost

This speedup would heavily favor well-funded, well-known front-runners, such as New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who leads her chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has lengthened his lead for the Republican nomination by double-digit margins, according to most polls.

Campaign advisers say both of them will have more than enough funds to campaign simultaneously in the largest and most expensive media-market states that will likely make up the new “Super Tuesday” sweepstakes on the first Tuesday in February.

But is faster better?

A growing number of critics fear that the looming high-speed nomination process shortchanges voters whose state contests will be held long after the nominations are decided. They also say it works against poorly funded candidates and tilts the playing field in favor of high-name-recognition candidates before most voters know much about them or their agendas.

“Super Tuesday has turned into Super-sized Tuesday, with the number of states that want to hold primaries in early February more than doubling from the last presidential election cycle,” said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat and co-chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

“This is all about candidate strategies and leapfrogging by the states based on this misguided idea that they are going to have a dramatic influence on the outcome. Much of the tinkering has been done with the candidates in mind, but not the voters.”

Indeed, a survey of the front-loading bills being debated in state legislatures suggests the chief motivation behind many of them is to help their own presidential contenders. In New York, they are calling the proposed Feb. 5 legislation the “Rudy-Hillary bill.”

In Illinois, state lawmakers are saying the bill is intended to help Sen. Barack Obama, who was trailing Mrs. Clinton by 10 points or less in recent national polls. In New Mexico, the bill would have to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, whose long-shot presidential candidacy is stuck in the low single digits.

But Mr. Galvin said that “the one consistency in all this is the rule of unintended consequences.”

One of them will be that many states will have had little or no say in selecting the nominee.

“It’s a situation that’s gone from bad to worse,” said Kay Stimson, spokesman for the National Association of Secretaries of State. “It forces states to try to move to the front of the pack in order to be relevant in the candidate-selection process, but the states that don’t try to be part of that [early] process have left their voters behind.”

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson said, “Many of these states that will be moving up their primary will be disappointed when they find that few, if any, candidates campaign there.

“We changed our law to move our primary from May to March in the Southern Super Tuesday contests and, lo and behold, not many candidates came to Kentucky,” said Mr. Grayson, referring to 2004. “We did not see much of a return. The bigger states will get the candidates.”

California is counting on that.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in candidate appearances ever since there was speculation that California would move its primary up in the calendar,” said Kevin Roberts, chief communications coordinator for the state’s Republican Party.

Some Democrats worry that the front-loading will create a longer general election period that could work against their party, costing their nominee’s campaign more money to maintain visibility and voter interest. It also could give Republicans more time to beat up the Democratic presidential nominee.

“If some in my party see an advantage to an early nominee, they are underestimating the current situation,” Mr. Galvin said. “History shows the Republican Party operatives are very effective at attacking us and that if you put a nominee up on Feb. 5, that will give them an awful lot of time to assault our candidate.”

State pride

Even Mr. Torres, a booster of the front-loading process, agrees that “the only downside is the longer general-election period. The longer it goes on, the higher the risks, the more susceptible you are to making mistakes and being attacked by your opponents, the bloggers and everyone else.”

It’s safe to assume the speedup will enlarge the importance of the first string of January contests in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But, for all the talk, it’s possible that the nominating races may not be settled by February.

“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the nomination will be sewn up by Feb. 5,” said Stacie Paxton, the Democratic National Committee’s spokesman. “I can’t say that this will be moving faster than before. There’s a strong field on the Democratic side that will appeal to different people in different states.”

And Mr. Torres sees a possible scenario where “a candidate can do well in Iowa, New Hampshire, the small, early states and get some momentum out of them so they will be able to compete in the succeeding contests. This is where Barack Obama, Richardson or John Edwards can be helped, not hurt.”

One state noticeably nervous about the scenario is New Hampshire, which jealously guards its first-in-the-nation primary status and looks with suspicion at any state that hints of moving too close to its Jan. 22 position on the calendar.

Both Florida and South Carolina could move their primaries up to Jan. 29, and Wyoming is also considering holding its caucuses on the same day that New Hampshire holds its primary.

“I won’t be surprised if New Hampshire decides to hold its primary in the Christmas season this year,” Mr. Galvin said. “There is no way they are going to let Wyoming get near them. They take their state’s motto ‘Live free or die’ very seriously.”

It’s a matter of each state one-upping another to maintain their relevancy, which led Miss Stimson of the National Association of Secretaries of State to a simple conclusion.

“No one is looking out for the national interest,” she said.

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