California Seeks Early Presidential Primaries
March 14, 2007 9:28 PM
Election Day is almost a year away, and almost eighteen presidential candidates have already more or less declared their candidacies.
Until recently, choosing presidential nominees was a lengthy, prolonged process that began in January and lasted until the following spring. But with California and other states planning to shift their primaries to February, the election schedule is becoming circumcised, condensed and front-loaded.
As many as 20 states, including California, have moved up or are considering shifting their presidential primaries to February 5, 2008, promptly after New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina kick off their own primaries and caucuses in January.
According to Thomas Gangale, former SF State graduate student and founder of the California Plan to Reform the Presidential Nomination Process, the move follows a trend to get more clout in the White House race that began in 1988 with the creation of “Super Tuesday,” a mishmash of several primaries on the same day.
“What was then a trickle, has now become a flood,” said Gangale.
In 2004, California was among ten states that held primary elections on March 12.
Previously, California and several other states traditionally concluded primaries in early June, extending the political season and making it difficult for unknowns to emerge.
“In times when we had more relaxed primary schedules, unknowns with underfunded campaigns had a chance to get their messages out by campaigning door-to-door in a few small venues, then slowly build momentum,” said Gangale, describing Jimmy Carter’s successful run for the Democratic nomination in 1976.
“Now it's all about who is the best known and has the most money,” he said in reference to candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ) and 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards.
Gangale directly blames this financially demanding system for what happened in the previous elections.
“The current front-loaded schedule enabled George W. Bush to cruise to renomination without opposition despite an unpopular war and a sputtering economy because no one even seriously considered raising the $100 million plus, that would have been required to mount a credible challenge.”
According to SF State political science professor Erin Scholnick, the shortened process now requires candidates to address the issues of voters in many parts of the nation, although some issues may only pertain to one part of the country, “which will be a tiring, time consuming, and an expensive undertaking.”
“It was disturbing to read in last week's news that Hillary is trying to break Bush's campaign spending in the primary season alone. It seems to me that we could save some money by offering the candidates free air time and a dedicated candidate day, but that is not the way things are done in the United States.”
Gangale and Scholnick agreed that the process is obstructive to good government.
“Our goal should be to make electoral office more accessible to the American public,” said Scholnick. “The candidates should not have to worry about telling us what we want to hear in three sentences or less or have to worry about the money. This really does corrupt the system.”
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