Iowa and New Hampshire -- Is There a Better Way?

It seems like we go through this every four years. People bitch and moan about the inflation of importance (and influence) of early primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa in selecting presidential nominees. According to an AP article today, neither state represents a true cross section of the American electorate…

Given the amount of time and money that presidential candidates spend in Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s no wonder that we’ve seen some backlash in the past year from states that want to have some influence over who the two major political parties will nominate at their conventions later in the year. Several states have bumped up their primaries, and the “gentleman’s agreement” that allowed Iowa and New Hampshire to weed out the weaker candidates prior to Super Tuesday in February isn’t operative any longer. In fact, this might be the last presidential election cycle that Iowa and New Hampshire carry the weight that they do in the nominating process.

It’s easy to understand voter frustration around the country. By the time primaries roll around in some of the larger states (Pa., Ca., for example) the nomination will probably, for all intents and purposes, have already been locked up in both parties. The media will count the beans, and will have informally coronated the winners and ridiculed the losers. So, there is certainly merit in leveling the playing field and perhaps developing some kind of a rotation system whereby different states get to take the lead every four years.

Of course, developing such a system would require cooperation and agreement by a lot of people on a lot of levels. That isn’t going to happen (at least not in my lifetime, and without a lot of political blood being spilled). Perhaps the only solution, as some have suggested, is to hold a national primary day, say, in March of an election year. But I’m not sold on that solution, either. A single, 50 state primary election day removes the “retail politics” aspect that is so important in Iowa and New Hampshire, and would be impossible to recreate on a national level. As such, conventional political wisdom continues to dictate, at least for this year, that the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire serve as proxies for the rest of the country.

Should they?


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