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January 25, 2007

California's Dreaming

As a native, I feel almost disloyal saying this, but California should keep its primary precisely where it is. This is a 35,000,000 person, 158,000 square mile state. There's no way, within the context of the early-primary rush, for Democrats to seriously, thoughtfully, or comprehensively campaign within it. All they can do is spend money and rely on name recognition making it a competition between the famed and the funded. And that doesn't mean we'll just have a primary entrenching the likeliest outcomes: It means we're going to ensure those outcomes. Any minor candidate seeking to remain even marginally competitive will exhaust their coffers in the first ad run through the Los Angeles media market.

As it stands, I don't like our primary system, or our funding system, or the lineup of states that choose the nominee, or New Hampshire's crackpot insistence on going first. But the one thing I do respect about the current set-up is its vulnerability to new voices, voices that would be easily drowned out by California's cacophonous media sphere and culture.

January 25, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Any minor candidate seeking to remain even marginally competitive will exhaust their coffers in the first ad run through the Los Angeles media market.

Public financing, public financing, public financing. And force broadcast stations to actually function as lessee's of the public's airwaves, giving set amounts of airtime for each candidate either for free or for a substantially reduced fee.

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 25, 2007 10:13:38 AM

I wish the primary order was determined by the closeness of the most recent presidential results in those states, adjusted for factors like the size of the media markets-- let's say no more than two largeish ones-- and maybe for geography and/or remoteness. Seems like Missouri would be a great early primary state, for example.

Posted by: latts | Jan 25, 2007 10:24:53 AM

Stephen, I don't think we're going to get public financing or changes to broadcasting laws before the 2008 campaign, seeing as how we're already into it.

Posted by: KCinDC | Jan 25, 2007 10:33:24 AM

I actually favor an early California primary -- not because it will improve the current system any, but because it will hasten its demise. In fact, February 5th isn't early enough. They should move it to New Year's Day, precipitating a crisis in which everyone agrees the whole thing is absurd and moves toward what we really need, that being rotating regional primaries held much later in the year than is done now.

Posted by: Bertie | Jan 25, 2007 10:42:15 AM

I've lost track of all the changes to the primary schedule, with the exception of Nevada being right in front along with Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Maybe I just haven't been paying close enough attention, but one day, I read a story about Sen. Obama visiting Virginia and giving a keynote speech, which was important because of the state's primary position, which led me to think, "When the hell did Virginia change, and why? When was the last time this state had a significant role in the primary process?"

Anyway, when people were debating this a few years ago, I heard one idea that was really interesting: make the first few states change each election. Each four years, the first primary or caucus states would be chosen by a lottery-like system. Imagine how this might affect the ways in which campaigns were run. One year, the candidates might have to compete in New York, Indiana, Oregon, Utah, and Georgia, and four years later, in Washington, Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Maine. By mixing it up so heavily, I feel as if each side would get better campaigners and better overall candidates. And to avoid the possibilities of regional or size bias, they could pick one state from a group.

Posted by: Brian | Jan 25, 2007 11:33:32 AM

Stephen, I don't think we're going to get public financing or changes to broadcasting laws before the 2008 campaign, seeing as how we're already into it.

Yeah, I know.

I do like Bertie's idea. If Nevada were to set their primary on New Year's Day, say at 8am, then New Hampshire would advertise the fact that their primary, while starting at 8am as well, actually starts 2 hours earlier! Plus they could make the polls close after 1 hour, set up an ultra-efficient counting system so that tabulating the votes only takes 45 minutes. That way they could still get their results out before anyone in Nevada casts a vote.

There's probably some Dem official in New Hampshire that is gonna read this comment and think, "he's right - we do have time zones on our side!"

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 25, 2007 11:50:26 AM

Stephen: Public financing, public financing, public financing. And force broadcast stations to actually function as lessee's of the public's airwaves, giving set amounts of airtime for each candidate either for free or for a substantially reduced fee.

Hear, Hear! We won't get this before 2008, if ever, but until this reform takes place, the large states should not lead the pack. Primaries should be in places that are media-cheap.

This drive of states to be early-primary states is insane. The DNC should just smack down any states (like New Hamphshire) that change their schedules to be early (making their votes could only as straw polls). In the interim, I'd just draw up a list of diverse media-cheap states, put their names in hat, and draw for positioning. That could be done quickly, and tell states that their laws must conform or they are out of the running for convention votes for any primary before, say, April 1, 2008.

Some body needs to play daddy to the quarreling children.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jan 25, 2007 12:53:14 PM

What about rotating regional primaries? Let a few states go first, to get the hoopla going, then have a series of regional primaries with 3-4 weeks of campaigning for each primary.

That would let California, and other states, eventually be in the first round and second round. It also would force politicians to learn the issues that matter to each region and to be challenged on those issues. Rather than spout pablum. It also would help remove the impact of the South on the presidential elections because in some years they'd go last or next to last.

BTW I love the NH time zone idea. Just brilliant enough that some yahoo will try and do it. I personally love watching C-SPAN cover that remote town in NH with maybe 50 souls that always votes first in NH...it's a throwback to the early 1800s.

Posted by: Fred | Jan 25, 2007 1:31:28 PM

Oh no, not cacophony! not a harsh discordance of sound or, horrors, dissonance!

Seriously however, California may have the most diverse voting population in the country.... and I don't agree that the current Iowa-style "press the flesh" approach is particularly valuable. This is the reason that candidates who are already elected to the Senate spend now up to 15 months before the primary more or less ignoring their constituent's needs (as well as missing key votes). As it stands, to do otherwise would give candidates not currently in office an advantage (although I wish John Edwards and Wesley Clark well in any case).

The caucuses and the flesh-pressing seem so very old-school... when so much else has changed, why can't we have revision to this antiquated approach? All we get for this is Iowa's monolithic corn-and-soybean lobby shoved down our throats (didja see Harkin 'n Gassley cheering when the sad topic of ethanol was raised during the chimp's SOTU?), and mucho pandering to New Hampshire's so, so tiresome "nukylar famlee valyooz" decade after decade.... pass the sick bag pleeze, why should we kowtow to these remnants of the cigar-stoking backroom political approach, just cuz the prevailing wisdom (and, God knows, the ever-pandering DLC) says don't rock the boat?

Please, Dems, please question everything and DO Rock the boat. I trust the voters of Califonria far more than I do those of: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and (for God's sake) South Carolina, where they still fly the confederate flag because of their "proud huritidge" (of being primordial losers).

Posted by: Lamb Cannon | Jan 25, 2007 1:47:22 PM

New Hampshire's crackpot insistence on going first

What's crackpot about it? It's a cheap and easy way for relatively non-important States to get some leverage in the pork-barrel pandering stakes.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Jan 25, 2007 1:54:03 PM

A California primary would be a test of two things: who has the best media presence, and who has the best organization. Both of which are, um, kinda important in the general election.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jan 25, 2007 1:54:05 PM

Why don't you tell us how you really feel, Lamb Cannon? (grin)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jan 25, 2007 1:56:39 PM

Yes I agree,we should keep the country's most populated, most wealthy, most important state in an irrelevant position where candidates already could care less about what happens on primary day.

The primary system is already screwed, I don't see how making a state that is really important in a place of political power for once.

Democrats ahve taken us for granted for too long I think it's time for a rude awakening.

Hell, I say CA primary should be the first one, They should hold it Jan 1.

Posted by: Tony | Jan 25, 2007 3:28:04 PM

The solution would to obvious not run ads in the LA market. There are at least 3 (NoCal, SoCal and the Central Valley) Californias so canidates with out a lot of money could concentrate on one area in an attempt to remain competitive and in the race. You know there are real people in California not just Hollywood money and San Francisco liberals.

Posted by: can we bar Ezra from the Westside | Jan 25, 2007 3:33:41 PM

Well cwbEftW, the coastal areas you seem to not like - LA, SF and San Diego - account for about 72% of California's population. While there are indeed people who don't live in these areas, since winning an election requires getting the most votes, it's usually considered a good strategy to try and appeal to, you know, the most votes.

Also, we're talking about a Democratic primary, and California's Democratic voters tend to be more heavily concentrated in its large metropolitan areas.

There's a lot of advantages to being one of California's "real" people who live outside the large cities*, so how about you just enjoy that instead of whining about how people tend to pay more attention to LA and SF than whatever podunk town you live in?

*except Bakersfield. There are no advantages to living in Bakersfield.

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 25, 2007 3:55:31 PM

Public financing, public financing, public financing.

California voted on a public financing package, Proposition 89, a few months ago. It failed by a 3-to-1 margin.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 25, 2007 5:02:01 PM

The justifications for the current primary system just don't hold water. Dean became the frontrunner in an essentially national race. Ségolène Royal won an insurgent primary campaign without any regional staggering.

The easiest solution to the current system is a national: party primary charters saying no votes count unless they're cast on Super Tuesday.

Posted by: Alon Levy | Jan 25, 2007 5:15:01 PM

Chris,

My understanding is that Prop. 89 didn't apply to unions. Considering that the Nurses union was the initiator and key sponsor, that turned off a lot of voters.

Voters also passed prop 187, and blamed Gray Davis for a deficite caused by Enron stealing $50 billion from the state. California voters have a long history of swallowing ridiculous political ideas.

Quite aside from the mess that is election financing, California's proposition process is seriously messed up and largely in the hands of large corporations and a few of the state's wealthiest individuals.

Anyway, while state financing is great, we need a national system. Not the failure that we have now, but something with real funding and teeth.

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 25, 2007 6:27:33 PM

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 25, 2007 7:13:38 AM

Public financing would definitely help in the future, although as you and others have noted, it's not going to happen on a large scale in 2008. But it's a cause worthy of support!

I currently live in California (with many "real" people down here in the L.A. area) and while CA is diverse, I've heard the argument that because the state is so huge and the ads more expensive, the best-moneyed candidates would have an even greater advantage. I'm open to counter-arguments, but barring "public financing," that seems to be a pretty legitimate concern. While Iowa and New Hampshire are not as representative of the country as a whole, the citizens of both states tend to take their role in the political process very seriously, and I suspect as a whole they're more up on their politics than the average citizen elsewhere. That said, I do feel there's way too much emphasis given in the press to the results in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Super Tuesday should be given far more weight.

Posted by: Batocchio | Jan 25, 2007 6:29:24 PM

Well, I agree with Ezra. Whatever the inadequacies of Iowa, NH, or the current system in general, an earlier California primary would increase the role of money in politics. That's an obviously bad idea.

Posted by: Tom | Jan 25, 2007 7:51:20 PM

I'm open to counter-arguments, but barring "public financing," that seems to be a pretty legitimate concern.

How about the counterargument that moneyed campaigns are already favored under the current system, while in France, which has national primaries, Royal ran a successful insurgent campaign only a few months ago?

Posted by: Alon Levy | Jan 26, 2007 5:59:05 PM

Posted by: Alon Levy | Jan 26, 2007 2:59:05 PM

There's one. Keep 'em coming! But doesn't France have public financing?

I think everyone agrees, and the stats bear out, that the candidates with more money have an advantage, sometimes an immense one. Would that advantage be curtailed or boosted by having an earlier California primary, however? Does the current primary system help the best candidate get picked? (Talk about a loaded question.) Does it benefit the candidates, and the voters, to have a series of state primaries versus a single national one? I'm honestly not certain. Regardless, I'm certain voters can be better served by better coverage of the primary debates and candidates' actual positions in the media.

Posted by: Batocchio | Jan 26, 2007 8:37:07 PM

What about running primaries beginning with the smallest electoral votes and working your way up? No one will clinch a total until the larger states start voting and lesser known candidates would have either generated interest or fizzled out. There are smaller states in the electoral count in every region, so you'd get Western (Nevada, Idaho), mid-west (pick one), South (West Virginia, Mississipp, Arkansas), and New England (New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine) input throughout the early phases.

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Posted by: JUDY | Sep 26, 2007 4:23:38 AM

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