OUT OF ORDER MAY YET COME CHAOS
Forget "Super Tuesday"!--
how 'bout "a WHOPPER of a Tuesday"?!
Monday, April 2, 2007
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
On Sunday 1 April 2007, Governor Jon S. Corzine (D-New Jersey) signed into law a bill moving the Garden State's Presidential Primary up to Tuesday 5 February 2008: thus, my own State has now so recently joined the growing list of States holding Presidential Primaries or Caucuses on that particular date.
As of the moment I am typing this (for this could well change almost as soon as this piece has been posted on the website [;-)]), 11 States (though they are not necessarily the same States re: both Major Parties) will be holding first-step delegate selection "events" (either a Primary or a Caucus which will, whether directly or indirectly, determine just how many delegates to each Party's National Convention will be distributed amongst which candidates for each respective Presidential Nomination) that Tuesday 5 February next year. All together (at least so far!), some 23% of the total number of delegates to be chosen via the Primary/Caucus process will be up for grabs in these States alone (please keep in mind that nearly 20% of the Democratic delegates are formally unpledged so-called "Superdelegates", while nearly 7% of the delegate seats at the GOP's Convention are reserved for State party leaders and Republican National Committee members: hence, the number of delegates to be chosen via Primary or Caucus is less than the total number of Convention delegates in either Party).
When one then factors in the States (such as Iowa and its "first-in-the-Nation" Caucus and New Hampshire, with its "first-in-the-Nation" Primary) which, as of this typing, will have already held their first-step "events" prior to 5 February 2008, one discovers that some 27 to 28 per cent of the delegates chosen via Primary and Caucus re: each Major Party will have been affected, at least in some shape or form (Iowa's Caucuses, after all, don't actually distribute National Convention delegates amongst the contenders for the nomination-- therefore, once Iowa's Convention delegates do become pledged as Spring turns into the Summer a year from now, the breakdown of that State's delegation will almost certainly be quite different from what one has tried one's utmost to glean from various and sundry "tea leaves" collected during the previous Hawkeye State Winter!), via the votes already cast by the rank-and-file voters of each Party by the middle of the first full week of next February!
But the situation appears even more acute once one factors in those States likely to join the already-determined 5 February Primary/Caucus States, let alone all States which could yet conceivably change their primary or caucus date to what is fast becoming a de facto "National Primary Day":
depending on how one counts these, one gets a figure of roughly 55% (for Republicans) and 57% (for Democrats) of all National Convention delegates distributed amongst presidential candidates via voter input determined (or well on their way to being determined) before the day after such 5 February 2008 delegate selection "events"- this if one only counts those States most likely, right now, to so move up their Primary or Caucus (and please note that my own list of these will differ somewhat from anyone else's list-- it all depends on one's definition of "most likely, right now": so please don't bother writing me to complain about how these percentages I myself have herein cited might differ from those given in other sources the reader might have consulted; I've got my own definition and I'm sticking to it! [;-)])...
however, if one then adds in all jurisdictions which could move their Primary or Caucus date up to 5 February (for instance, there are quite a few States in which a respective Election Code allows some authority- the Secretary of State or the Governor, etc.- to, by executive order, set a Presidential Primary or Caucus date other than that provided by statute), the issue becomes even more problematic (for, theoretically, a mere stroke of the pen could then well bring the percentages of voter-chosen delegates pledged to presidential candidates by Wednesday 6 February next year as high as 61% for Republicans and 68% for Democrats!)
Now, it appears the conventional wisdom amongst political pundits is that having so many National Convention delegates already pledged to given contenders for a Party's presidential nomination so early in the game will mean that the contest for each Party's nomination will, for all intents and purposes, be "all over but for the shouting" by Thursday morning 7 February when, so these pundits opine, each Major Party's nominee-presumptive will be holding their own separate press conferences appealing to Party unity...
but *I* beg to differ!
While that scenario, in both Major Parties, is, indeed, rather probable: it is also nearly as likely that two (or, perhaps, even more) presidential contenders in at least one (if not both) Major Parties will emerge, each- as we move toward the end of that first full week in February- still well short of "clinching" their Party's nomination via having, already, a majority of the pledged National Convention delegates (or being so very close thereto), and each still close to one another in terms of pledged delegates while having rather few delegates (via an ever-sparser number of remaining Primaries and/or Caucuses) to fight over all the way to their respective National Conventions (which, it should be noted, are- it so happens- going to be held rather "late" next year, as compared to the "usual" dates for National Conventions historically).
Keep in mind- while you ponder this possibility, dear reader- that, first of all, 2008 will be the first time- since the advent of modern Politics in the Age of Television (which one can fairly date- if, admittedly, solely for convenience- from 1960, the year of the famous Kennedy/Nixon Debates)- that no incumbent President or Vice President is seeking a Major Party's presidential nomination while, at the very same time, the most recent Vice President from the Party not controlling the Presidency has not served in that office less than four years previous (should former Vice President Al Gore, indeed, run for President in 2008, he will have been out of that office for nearly eight years; and there is a big difference between Gore's situation and someone having been V.P. a mere four years before seeking the White House [please see MONDALE, WALTER "FRITZ" and 1984; then compare NIXON, RICHARD M. and 1968])...
2008, therefore, presents a completely "wide open" race for the White House- in both Major Parties- and this has not happened since 1952 which was back when Television was in its infancy, the Internet was not even a glint in the eyes of its inventors (Al Gore among them? [;-)]) and the modern day-in/day-out Media Coverage of a presidential nomination campaign (let alone the sheer number of Primaries alone!) was not yet in place...
put another way: 1952 was still during an era when a candidate for President could "pick one's spots" and choose which Primaries one should run in and which ones to avoid and still end up winning a Major Party nomination (because the vast majority of delegates were still being pledged to candidates via a Caucus/Convention system more or less under the thumb of the Party leadership in each State or equivalent jurisdiction)...
not so in 2008, when a serious candidate for the Presidency has to pretty much run in each and every delegate selection "event"- whether Primary and Caucus- and do so in a political "fishbowl" where every step (and mis-step) along the way is daily (24 hours on each of those days!) seen on cable news, as well as (thanks to cell phone video and/or TiVo and simple editing software) such places as YouTube, not to also mention various and sundry video-capable blogsites.
Up to this point, ever since Jimmy Carter- back in 1976- became the first candidate for the Presidency to show that one could, indeed, contest virtually every Primary and Caucus (even those where one was considered to have the proverbial "snowball's chance in Hell" of actually emerging victorious) and still successfully pick up significant chunks of pledged National Convention delegates while, at times, coming in 2nd- or even 3rd (when the smoke began to clear after old-time "Super Tuesday" in early June that year, Carter was- as a result- so close to clinching the Democratic Party nomination that there was no way for the ABC ["Anyone But Carter"] to thereafter stop him-- no candidate for either Major Party's presidential nomination has at all forgotten the serious "schooling" Jimmy thereby had given them-- nowadays, as in Baseball, you've got to "touch 'em all" in order to score!), the way the delegate selection process has "shaken things out" while, at the same time, provided a nominee-presumptive early enough so as to avoid a nasty floor fight a-la Chicago Democrats '68 (as well as also avoiding an embarrassing running mate-selection process a-la Miami Beach Democrats '72!) is to have Iowa and New Hampshire weed out the weakest candidates (among those who have an at least somewhat realistic, however outside or even quixotic, shot at the nomination), leaving two- or, at the most, three- of the strongest remaining viable nomination contenders in each Major Party to "duke it out" throughout the month of February before a "Super Tuesday" in early March finally more or less crowns that Party's "champion"...
this is what happened back in 2004 (when the once-mighty Howard Dean's [in?]famous "performance" in the aftermath of Iowa led to his downfall in New Hampshire and beyond [though there were already signs Dean was in trouble out of D.C.'s controversial advisory early Primary] and only John Kerry, Wes Clark and John Edwards were left standing; Clark was knocked out during February, but Edwards was not gone until "Super Tuesday" [though his so "hanging in there" probably helped him gain the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket that year])...
this is also what happened back in 2000 (when John McCain won New Hampshire over George W. Bush- while weaker candidates were found wanting- and then the two of them sparred through all of February until, again, March "Super Tuesday" made it clear that the GOP rank-and-file preferred Bush to McCain)...
I could go on and on (as those who might know me personally could well attest!), but I will here spare the gentle reader (how unlike me! [;-)]).
The point of this whole "trip down Memory Lane" is that, once the candidates for a given Major Party's nomination with little support were "vetted" and knocked out of the race in Iowa and New Hampshire, two- or no more than three- serious contenders were left to be measured by the average Primary voter or Caucus participant who would be doing the choosing during February or come March's "Super Tuesday": in other words, many voters had a pretty fair chance to weigh each candidate before enough of them voting during the early stages of the Primary "season" culminating in that first week in March reached some kind of collective consensus as to who the nominee should actually be. It was not a perfect system, by any means, and was- indeed- largely unfair to anyone living in a State voting in Primaries and Caucuses held after, say, mid-March (my own State of New Jersey- until now, of course- continued to hold its Presidential Primary in early June and, I dare say, I can't really say I and my fellow Garden Staters have had any real say in who might be a Major Party's nominee for President!) but at least there was a month (give or take) of some serious mulling over who should, in the end, become a Major Party's nominee for President.
Come 2008, however, this will not be all that much of an option (no matter how many States ultimately join my own in moving their respective Presidential Primaries or Caucuses up to 5 February)- and it will become even less of an option as more and more States so join the fray of that day. What will then more likely happen is a complete lack of consensus among a Party's rank-and-file: as, say, 30- or 40- or even as many as 50+ percent of each Major Party's National Convention delegates (though, note, not all of them!: for- if this were an actual "National Primary Day", on which all delegates were to be chosen by every Party voter throughout the Nation- the discussion at hand would be quite different; I hope the reader clearly sees the issue currently involves the "scraps" of delegates left to be pledged after next 5 February!) are chosen on a single day, there may well be- as of yet- no clear choice for the nomination... if this, in fact, be the case: candidate 1 will win in States A, C, D and F; but candidate 2 will win in States B, G, H and J; while candidate 3 will win in States E, I and K... and all three candidates in this hypothetical would also likely gain at least several delegates in those States they don't win... the smoke would then clear after this new "Super Duper Tuesday" next Winter and we might well be seeing but the start of a 6 1/2 month-long "junkyard dog fight" for a presidential nomination and the relatively few delegates left to be pledged will thereafter be the limited amount of "meat" left on a rather desirable "bone".
Amongst the Democrats' "Superdelegates" (as well as, albeit to a lesser extent, the Republicans' "Party leader delegates")- mentioned earlier in this piece- there may well be grave consternation as to whom to ultimately support should the above scenario play out in the Party in question. When a clear consensus nominee-presumptive emerges early in the game (as has generally been the case in recent presidential election cycles), most of these "fall in line" behind the obvious winner, if only for the sake of Party unity going into the National Convention; but, where such a dogfight for the nomination might take place, many of these Party insiders will (understandably) wait as long as possible (hoping that a nominee-presumptive emerges in any event, even if but weeks before the Convention) before openly supporting a given candidate: this will only serve to make any such dogfight rather unpredictable (since there will be no way to know for sure if candidate 2- say, 100 delegates or so behind candidate 1 but, say, some 150 delegates ahead of candidate 3- might yet have the tacit support of more technically unpledged delegates than either of his/her two rivals for the nomination).
No, it is yet quite possible that having so many (but not, by any means, all) States beginning the determination of to whom their delegates will be pledged on the very same day (and so early yet!) will only serve to throw the battle for the presidential nomination in one- if not both- of the Major Parties into no mere tizzy!
Well- should this, indeed, happen (in one, if not both, Major Parties)- at least it will be most interesting...
though largely in the sense of that allegedly Chinese curse "May you live in the most interesting of times"!