The presidential primary and caucus seasons for both major parties have gotten out of control. Make that chaotic. With more and more states moving up their primaries and caucuses, the 2008 nominating process is starting (and will likely end) way too early. With each succeeding election cycle since 1984, the situation has gotten progressively worse, i.e., the process has begun and ended earlier and earlier.
This time around, it will begin just two days after New Year’s Day and will probably, for all intents and purposes, be over by the first week in February. This will result in a monotonous, nine-month slog of a general election campaign.
Beginning in 2012, the parties need to take control of the nominating schedule away from the states and set the primary and caucus schedules themselves. Both parties should kick off the nominating process with the Iowa Caucuses the first Tuesday in February. This contest should be followed by the New Hampshire Primary the third Tuesday in February.
That would leave the remaining 48 states to conduct their primaries, caucuses, and/or conventions, 12 at a time, over the next four months. The order would be based on state population. The 12 least populous states of those 48 would conduct their contests on the second Tuesday in March. The states with a population rank of 25 to 36 would go on the second Tuesday in April, with those ranking 13 to 24 in population going on the second Tuesday in May, and finally the 12 most populous of the 48 going on the second Tuesday in June.
The two-week gap between Iowa and New Hampshire would allow candidates performing well in Iowa time to take advantage of their momentum heading into New Hampshire. Likewise, the three-week interval between New Hampshire and the 12 least populous states of the remaining 48 would allow candidates performing well in New Hampshire time to take advantage of their momentum heading into those states. In addition, forcing the larger states to go last would virtually assure that no candidate could clinch his or her party’s nomination before May.
But the real beauty of this kind of scheduling process is that, while it would preserve Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s traditional early positions in the nominating process, it would also give all the other states a role to play as well. Iowa and New Hampshire would make the first cut. Then the smaller states would winnow the fields down even further. Ultimately, the larger states would make the final decision in deciding the nominees among the remaining candidates.