NH Dems submit '08 primary plan
Cross posted at DailyKos
The following was sent out this week to news organizations by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, in attempt to preserve the state's First in the Nation primary status.
As an aside, I would also suggest the following recent books to read about the history of the New Hampshire primary:
"Why New Hampshire?" by SOS Bill Gardner and the late Hugh Gregg.
"Primary Politics" by Charles Brereton.
Personally, as an award-winning radio and print journalist, political junkie, voter in N.H., and now a radio program director for a news/talk station, I appreciate what state officials are trying to do in preserving our state's First in the Nation status. I have written extensively about the issue on my own blog and, like others, have come up with my own solutions.
While some people may feel it is time to take this away from New Hampshire, it is important to understand that our state created the process and we should be allowed to work on fixing what both political parties, candidates, the boatloads of money, special interests of all shapes and sizes, have done to screw the process up.
I personally would like to see Iowa and New Hampshire preserved as the first and then work on ways of bringing the New Hampshire and Iowa experience to other states. That can only be done with a lot of thinking, planning, and time spent on design. Our state's governor, John Lynch, a Democrat, wrote a critical - and dead-on correct - letter to Chairman Howard Dean this week, clearly noting that the commission has lost its way. Having watched their talks on C-Span and follow the process, this is clear. But that doesn't mean that folks like us can't come up with our own ideas on how to fix the process.
Here is what the NH Dems released this week:
Throughout the Commission's meetings and hearings, there have been two critical concerns about the current nominating calendar: frontloading and diversity.
Addressing these two challenges is critical to our party, our future nominees and our ability to motivate our supporters and attract additional voters. All of us want to resolve these concerns with an approach that will utilize our resources and build on our strengths to achieve electoral success in 2008 and beyond.
Throughout the life of this Commission, New Hampshire has been an engaged, cooperative partner in the effort to improve the primary system. We have embraced efforts to move diverse states to the front of the calendar.
However, we have become alarmed at recent press reports about the possible direction this Commission may take in drafting its final report. We are concerned that the problem of frontloading could be exacerbated - making the process narrower and less democratic - with devastating consequences for the swing states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Any primary calendar that leads off with new caucuses at the font of the calendar and before the New Hampshire primary would explode the very problem of frontloading. It will result in decreased input from regular people and grassroots activists. There could also be serious future political damage to the Democratic Party in New Hampshire - which has a newly-elected Democratic governor and was the only state to turn from red to blue in 2004.
There is a better alternative - a compromise that adds diversity and decreases frontloading. At the October 1 Commission meeting, New Hampshire offered a compromise proposal that was distributed as a scenario outline to Commissioners at the meeting (a complete version of the proposal is attached). This proposal would add early diversity and decrease frontloading by scheduling one or two new contests in a prominent position at the front of the presidential nominating calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state. It also calls for extending the calendar backward - to give all states more influence in the nominating process and help our Party nominate a candidate who has been thoroughly tested by voters across the nation.
The proposals being discussed in the press have the dangerous potential of making any problems with the Party's nominating calendar worse, just to move other states early. We appreciate your consideration of the attached alternative proposal and look forward to discussing it in more detail with you.
NH Democratic Party Chair
Nominating Calendar Proposal:Greater Diversity, More Participation, Less Frontloading
This proposal is designed to advance the objectives of electing a Democrat to the presidency, encouraging increased voter participation in the Democratic presidential nominating process, turning out an increasingly diverse and representative Democratic voter base, and facilitating grassroots organization and party-building that will help elect Democrats at all levels of federal and state elections in 2008.
This proposal rests on two conceptual changes to the presidential nominating calendar that, working together, will preserve the historic strengths while addressing most of the key criticisms of the current system. The two proposed changes are:
1. Add one or two contests to a prominent position at the front of the presidential nominating calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state. These contests would occur in states whose voting public displays substantial racial, ethnic, religious or other key diversity characteristics
2. Reverse the frontloading trend by creating a series of sanctioned dates on which states could hold presidential primaries or caucuses, beginning on or about the first Tuesday of February and ending on or about the second Tuesday in June, wherein the DNC Rules would set the number of delegates that could be chosen on each sanctioned date, thereby limiting the number of states that could hold contests on each date.
The two challenges posed by the current presidential nominating calendar are: (1) the need for increased voter diversity at the front end of the process, as early states are not as diverse or "representative" of the larger electorate as they could be; and (2) the calendar is far too front-loaded.
Increasing diversity at the front end of the process is best addressed by adding a state or states to an early, prominent position in the presidential nominating calendar following Iowa and New Hampshire. Beyond that practical solution, Democrats should be wary of trying to over-engineer the presidential nominating process in an effort to produce a particular result. The law of unintended consequences will surely come into play (e.g., when the Super Tuesday southern primaries were designed to produce a more moderate presidential nominee and that did not occur). Although no single state can credibly claim to represent or be a proxy for the entire nation, some of the proposed alternatives - a national primary; multiple regional primaries; or alternating lead-off states every four years - each pose serious problems that are much more problematic than the current system.
* A national primary or multiple regional primaries would eliminate the all-important one-on-one, grassroots politics at the front of the process, substituting instead a campaign that takes place exclusively in television studios, on airport tarmacs, and in pre-arranged, highly orchestrated large events.
* A national primary or multiple regional primaries would be enormously expensive to participate in, favoring well-heeled candidates over lesser-known ones while increasing the influence of money and special interests in the nominating process.
* A national primary or multiple regional primaries would also further condense the process (to a single date, or perhaps to very few dates).
* Under a national or regional-based system, states would continue to lose influence, and only the largest states would participate meaningfully in the nominating process.
* A national or regional-based system would depress turnout because candidates would be forced to run media-based campaigns rather than voter mobilization efforts.
* Alternating lead-off status and significantly changing the order of primaries every four years would likely not conform to the Republican calendar, making the process more expensive as well as more unpredictable. Plus, individual states would only get an opportunity to go early once in a generation, after waiting for several election cycles. States can better gain influence by scheduling their contests on a particular date in a prolonged, 3-4 month nominating calendar free of frontloading.
* Predictability is an important consideration - for political parties, candidates, electorates and the media - and it would be significantly undermined if not wholly sacrificed if the nominating calendar were to be transformed each presidential election cycle.
Adding a diverse state or states to the front of the calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state - as opposed to a national, regional, or alternating lead-off state system - is the best, most preferable strategy for addressing the need for greater diversity earlier in the nominating process.
The basic problem with the current presidential nominating calendar, which causes many states to lose influence in the process, has nothing to do with Iowa and New Hampshire, or with which state or states go first: the basic problem is frontloading, i.e., the process of condensing the nominating calendar to a much earlier, shorter time period.
As the Hunt Commission warned in 1982, frontloading trends then evident (and now much more pronounced):
"...threaten to `lock up' the nomination prematurely, fore-shortening the period during which candidates may be developed and issues may emerge. They make the party and its convention less able to respond to a changing political environment. And they devalue states whose primaries and caucuses come late, reducing the prospects of a meaningful showdown between major candidates at the end of the window period."
Ironically, frontloading - where states march to the front of the process in order to gain more influence - results in many states being bunched up on the same dates, whereby each actually loses influence over the nominating process.
It is frontloading - not Iowa and New Hampshire - that forces candidates to drop out and narrows the field too early, because only those with sufficient money to compete in a number of states across the country, which have bunched up (frontloaded) on the same dates soon after Iowa and New Hampshire, can credibly remain in the race.
Front-loading closes the decision-making process too quickly. Having the final decision made so early in the process/calendar decreases voter interest and participation, as voters in later states perceive that their vote doesn't count. It is also unfair to candidates who may not have the finances to compete in dozens of primaries over the course of a few short weeks after Iowa and New Hampshire.
A preferable approach is to lengthen the calendar to a 3-4 month period of party-sanctioned primary and caucus dates, beginning in February and ending in June, wherein individual states would be allowed to schedule their primaries or caucuses on dates that they can occupy alone, or share with a few other states, as DNC Rules would delimit the number of delegates that can be chosen (and therefore the number of states that could hold contests) on each sanctioned date.
A longer calendar, with a limited number of delegates chosen and states holding contests on each sanctioned date, will:
* give individual states more influence on the nominating process, as each state, either voting by itself or sharing the date with only one or two other states at most, would essentially "own" that particular date on the nominating calendar;
* allow more candidates to compete for a longer time (i.e., does not narrow the field prematurely);
* give the Democratic Party and Democratic voters across the country more opportunity to assess and reflect upon the relative qualifications, strengths and weaknesses of the candidates;
* increase voter interest, participation and turnout;
* strengthen state parties and energize voters at the grassroots level; and
* contribute to the selection of a nominee who has demonstrated sustained, broad-based support and who is therefore more electable in November.
Should a group of states wish to hold their contests on a particular date or within a particular week, and choose more delegates on that date than would otherwise be provided for in the rule, reasoning that their influence would be increased by voting in such a fashion - e.g., the currently-proposed Rocky Mountain Primary - such an exception is consistent with and can be provided for and accommodated under the rule proposed herein.
The above proposal addresses the two greatest weaknesses in the current presidential nominating calendar: (1) a lack of diversity in the early stages of the process; and (2) an overly frontloaded process. It is these problems, not the historic lead-off status of Iowa and New Hampshire, which the Commission should be looking to address. This proposal addresses these problems in a way that will not only increase diversity and better represent the views of Democratic voters nationwide, but will also encourage voter participation, strengthen state parties, provide better opportunities for presidential candidates to stay in the race longer while taking their case directly to voters at a grassroots level, and will ultimately help Democrats choose the most electable nominee.