Horning in on the Early Primary Season

by on January 16th, 2007

Believe it or not, the official start of the 2008 presidential nominating process is now less than a year away. On January 14, 2008, the Iowa Democratic Caucuses will be held to kick things off (the Iowa Republicans will hold theirs a week later). But why so early now?

Once upon a time, Iowa and Hampshire were the only states to hold their nominating contests prior to March 1, and those two were usually held during the last two weeks of February. However, other states started noticing the financial and political benefits of holding an early primary or caucus, and therefore decided to get a piece of the action and horn themselves in on the early primary schedule. As a result, Iowa and New Hampshire started moving theirs up earlier and earlier on the election calendar.

At last count, 19 states and the District of Columbia are scheduled to conduct Democratic primaries or caucuses during January and February of 2008, while 22 states are scheduled to stage Republican contests during that period. The schedule is not yet fixed, so more states could move up to January and February before all is said and done. Bet even as it stands now, it’s possible that nearly 40% of both parties’ convention delegate slate could be decided before March 1.

Following every primary season in recent years, there have been complaints about how front-end loaded it has become, along with calls to reform the system and reverse the trend the next time around — ostensibly creating mandates and offering incentives to states to move their elections further back. However, when the time comes to make those changes, the power brokers in both parties do just the opposite, giving in to greedy states who wish to move theirs up — making the primary season even more front-end loaded for the subsequent election cycle. Unless something is done, even more states will move up to January and February in 2012, which could result in Iowa and New Hampshire moving all the way up to December 2011.

Terry Mitchell