Friday, August 24, 2007

Getting serious on reforms of the nominating process

Every four years we hear a lot of griping about how the primary system has been evolving with states pushing their votes up earlier and earlier with the result this time around that it might all be over well before Valentine's Day. Carl Leubsdorf reports that there are serious efforts going on to put in one more reform before 2012.
To do something, they'd have to start by spring. Republicans set their rules four years ahead, so next September's Republican National Convention would have to approve any 2012 changes. The Democrats can wait, but, ultimately, both parties have to agree.

In the first sign that something might actually happen, a top Republican rules expert said this week that GOP officials hope to push approval next year of the so-called Delaware plan. It divides the states into four groups by size and schedules primaries and caucuses at one-month intervals, starting in early March with the smallest ones and ending with the 12 biggest, including Texas.

It is designed to keep the nomination fight open until the big states vote, making more states meaningful players and taking away the advantage the best-known, most heavily funded candidates now have. Lesser-known hopefuls would be able to become contenders with strong showings in smaller, less-expensive states.

And it would prevent one of the current system's biggest dangers, that someone could win a nomination without sufficient scrutiny.
I'd be happy with such a plan or a regional primary plan that rotated which region went first. But Iowa and New Hampshire are going to whine and complain if there is any indication that they're going to lose their first in the nation status. The only way that the parties can have control of the process is if they vote to deny a state that doesn't follow the prescribed calendar their seats at the convention. And cutting their delegation in half won't matter much. The Democratic Party is thinking of cutting Florida's delegation because the state dared to move their primary up. But as long as a state's primary gets some delegates, candidates won't care - it will be the publicity from a victory on January 29 that will mean more than how many votes they win at the convention. It's been a long time since the number of votes a candidate had at the convention made any difference to the outcome. Candidates just want to be in the winner's column when the snowball starts rolling after the early states have voted. But if the party denies a state all their votes then an early primary that violated the general calendar for the party will become just a straw poll. It would be worthy of intense media focus just like the Ames Straw Poll, but it will also be just one blip on the election calendar as everyone else would be looking forward to that first big vote of one-quarter of the states.

Whether big states like Texas and California would support any plan that put them last on the new calendar is an entirely different question. Every four years, the parties tinker about with their rules and don't really make much of a change. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them to pass a major reform this time around.