Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Iowa & New Hampshire - Will It Matter?

With this front loaded primary season and heavy spending by candidates and associated groups, you have to ask if any of this will matter to the 2008 Presidential race.

My answer is no. And I'm a New Hampshire boy - even wore my UNH shirt to Disney World today.

In the past Iowa and New Hampshire could set the table. Candidates could conduct retail-style politics, talking to small groups, honing their messages and building support. These states acted as filters for the rest of the country. Candidates would then move from state to state building support all the way into late summer conventions. There was a time where national conventions actually were interesting. There was drama - lots of battling over platforms and who the delegates should choose.

Then a bunch of states moved up their primaries. Iowa and New Hampshire still had influence. Now it would be hard to believe these states have any influence at all.

Before, the media hype would allow the winners to gain visibility. Lesser financed candidates would have time to raise money and build their organizations for the states following Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa allowed people to see the power of the candidates organizations. New Hampshire would show how the general public responded.

I do not not see how that can happen today:

- First, it's just too early. Candidates are running starting in late 2006 - 2 years before the general election. Most people are not thinking about who's running in 2007. They are still in post-holiday mode before the primaries hit them over the head. Have any of them seen the rash of debates?

- It's all bunched up. Within 5 days of Iowa, there's New Hampshire. I still don't get how a caucus is in any way a representative way of electing someone, but 5 days is not enough for a victory in Iowa to influence anything in New Hampshire. I realize that the caucus has allowed predominantly white Midwestern citizens to get boondoggles for their farmers and their state, but c'mon. If you don't read the news for a day or 2, before you know it, New Hampshire is there. Even New Hampshire has little value. There are a bunch of big and little states that come in the next couple of weeks. Even though the DNC has tried to deny Michigan and Florida their delegates, winning in their states will matter.

- The national primary is Feb 5. It's over - 22 states including California and New York. After that does it really matter? Sure there's are other big states including Ohio and Pennsylvania in March and April, but if you are not close with a boatload of cash and organization, you are basically gunning for a VP or Cabinet post.

On the Democratic side, that means it's between Clinton and Obama. The Republican side is more confusing with Giuliani, Romney, McCain and maybe (though unlikely) Huckabee.

Let's focus the Democratic side to illustrate. As long as it is close for Clinton, Obama and Edwards in Iowa, Edwards is essentially done. While he will probably do well in South Carolina, he does not have the money or the organization when the big primaries hit. Obama and Clinton have locked up most of the endorsements, money and organization to reach voters. It is unlikely that Californians and New Yorkers will be interested in his message, because they won't even hear it. California has 30 million citizens and is a huge state. Clinton has raised over $100 million in 2007 - an incredible sum that gives hear tremendous reach. Obama has similar money.

As you can tell, I'm not a fan of the Iowa caucus or any hyper influential caucus. It's a confusing mess. What does getting a bunch of folks to sit in a room and argue for hours have to do with electing a President? It may work for passionate supporters and party veterans, but who is going to leave work early, go home and change, go to a caucus, figure out a complicated system run by people who sound like they know what they are doing and then drive home late at night? This is the same country where people had issues with punching a hole through a ballot.

At one time, it mattered just like when Senators were elected by state legislatures or when delegates actually had multiple votes at a convention. It's old and outmoded and not truly representative of our country. California was forced to put ethanol in gasoline - subsidized by price supports on corn and a straight-up 54 cents per gallon government handout.

Even Iowans feel disenfranchised by the system. Many have kids to care for or jobs that don't allow them to leave at night. Only 124,000 out of 2.9 million voters participated in the 2004 election. To learn more this article.

While I don't think New Hampshire is necessarily representative of California, at least it is a primary. Like California, there is some hi tech and med tech industry along with plenty of rural regions. The proximity to Massachusetts helps. However, with California less than a month away, it won't matter much anyways. I feel sorry for all those NH hotels and restaurants in 2012, because the party's over.

I liked the idea of the 4 state regional primary system. 4 small states representing distinct US regions voting around the same time, giving us a way to see the candidates a little closer than normal.

So who wins? Those candidates who can raise a ton of money and nail down support very early. Is this a good system? No, a pure media and money driven campaign means the ordinary citizen moves farther away from American democracy - not closer to it. It's just too bad.

But until people get really fired up, this is the way it's going to roll for a while.

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