Kill Nevada’s early caucuses

In 1968, the delegate selection process of the presidential nominating campaign began too early. The issues had not yet emerged when many delegates were selected (Michigan began the process in 1966), with the result that the process was unresponsive to later events such as the Tet offensive in Vietnam. So the Democratic Party adopted rules forbidding any primaries or caucuses early in the year. Two exceptions were made, for New Hampshire and Iowa, so that there would be a relatively even playing field for retail campaigning in a couple of small states.

Statements of Sen. Reid and other supporters of the Nevada caucuses made it clear that they did not inform themselves of this history before blundering into caucus/primary scheduling. Since they didn’t know the terrain, they never dreamed that by further frontloading the process they would trigger a rush forward of other states that would turn 2008 into the most money-oriented nominating process in U.S. history.

Sen. Reid indulged his pandering to localism at the expense of a healthy presidential selection process, doing the nation’s Democrats the disservice of making a system that was more frontloaded and more expensive and less able to produce the best result. Delegate selection should not be treated as economic development for states. By contrast in the state of Washington, Democrats refused to move their state forward, calling the forward rush unwise.

Nevada journalists were just as bad as Reid, engaging in parochial boosterism instead of scrutinizing the wisdom of the caucuses. A better example can be found in Daily Iowa journalist Jon Gold, who argued against his state’s leaders that “there’s just no getting around the fact that the aristocratic power of the early primaries is bad for democracy.”

The distinguished veteran reporter David Broder called the addition of Nevada and South Carolina to the early schedule the party’s “effort to force-feed four contests in four different parts of the country into a two-week period at the start of the year.”

The Washington Post has editorialized, “It’s too late to stop front-loading in 2008. Maybe there’s hope for 2012. … Front-loading benefits better-known candidates with big bank accounts more than it does dark horses who might be able to do well and gain momentum in a more rationally paced system. … It short-circuits a process that could test candidates’ capacities for connecting with voters and conveying their views.”

Reid said Western issues needed greater exposure, and the process needs more diversity. But every state can make such claims. It is nonsense to believe that Nevada has no responsibility toward other states or to the election process. By taking that view, Nevada officials act very much like the arrogant New Hampshire and Iowa officials who keep demanding first place, the public’s interest be damned.

This year’s events, particularly in Michigan, make it clear that the national parties have the authority to solve the problem of New Hampshire and Iowa starting the process. But the party must first solve the problem of frontloading, and then diversify the schedule, preferably on a rotating basis so that no state goes first every time. In 1968, the first delegate selection event—the New Hampshire primary—was March 12. That was more than two months later than 2008’s first event—the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

The Democratic Party needs to move everything back to March or April and then—and only then—set up a fair system of revolving the starters.