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Small Handful of Small States

Ned ranted about silly parts of the presidential election.  I agree with 90% of what he says, but that last 10% . . . I started to respond in a comment on his blog, but the comment got long-winded enough that I decided to post here instead.  “The whole focus on early primaries seems completely out of whack to me, where a small handful of small states get to make big choices for everyone.”

My response is: If not New Hampshire. . . then which state?  What’s the alternative?  It’s an interesting question.  (And yes, I grew up in New Hampshire.)

I agree with another commenter, Dave, that one of the good parts of having New Hampshire pick first is retail politics.  The voters in New Hampshire, I’d argue, are less biased by the 30-second commercial or, god forbid, the 6-second newsbite quote.  They get to meet the candidates, listen to them for extended periods of time, and answer their questions.  Money matters, of course, but it matters less when you are there to shake people’s hands.

It’s a level of interaction that is inconceivable if you haven’t participated in it.  I went skiing with Bob Kerry and his one leg.  I joked with Elizabeth Dole.  I nearly grabbed Bob Dole’s pen by mistake.  I met every president from Reagan to Bush I (Clinton was elected while I was in college, and he broke my streak).

If not New Hampshire, then where?  A southern state?  A western state?  California is bigger and more diverse, but doesn’t it get decided by the television commercial, and thus the dollar?  If you look at small-population states, they’re all pretty white, just like New Hampshire.  Delaware, maybe, has a case to make; it’s small enough and more diverse than most.  But Nevada?  North Carolina?  Pick your biases, no matter which one you choose.

Another option is to have a national primary – no order of voting, just everyone vote the same day.  Again, I think that favors the best-funded candidates.  The dark-horse candidate doesn’t have a chance to make a run.  The current system permits candidates to rise and fall over time.  During each primary a new scrutiny is applied to the new frontrunner.

I agree with Ned that we have to break out of the two-party rut.  It’s just a matter of where to start.


Comment from Ned Batchelder
Time: January 8, 2008, 8:03 am

Yup, the thing I learned from that blog post was in that comment about retail politics. It’s a good point.