Hi class! Today I'm going to talk about one of the concepts I like to emphasize when teaching about presidential elections. You will be tested on this material at the end of the post. OK, not really, but it's the kind of dinner party knowledge that will make you feel smart.
You may have noticed that the 2008 primary calendar is radically different than any previous election. The Iowa Caucus, traditionally held in late February, is now practically crammed into New Years Day's pants. That's right, it's January frickin' 3rd. The New Hampshire primary is just a few days later (Jan. 5). Super Tuesday (mid- to late-March, traditionally) is now…February 5. Twenty-two states will hold primaries on that date, meaning, in essence, that you'll know the nominees before February is a week old.
So, what the hell? The explanation is a phenomenon called Front Loading. States are in a race to make their primaries earlier and earlier every year. Why? Well, first of all there are economic benefits. Not a whole lot goes on in Iowa and New Hampshire. Sorry to burst your bubble. But the caucus/primary are easily the biggest economic event (and attention-getter) in their respective states. Thousands of reporters and campaign workers flood the states with money over several months. It's like hosting a Super Bowl, if the Super Bowl lasted 90 days. States also want their primaries to actually mean something. The early "kingmaker" primaries exert tremendous influence over the nominations, as the candidates who do well early gain money, attention, and momentum to sweep through subsequent primaries. Later primaries? Not so much. Some states (Michigan and Florida) are even willing to violate party rules (and endure candidate boycotts) to get in on the early action.
There are also a few new (party-approved) additions to the pre-Super Tuesday calendar: Nevada and South Carolina. Why? Well, the Democratic Party in particular has had a lot of trouble over the years with the tremendous influence of Iowa and NH. With what sort of voters do Democrats do well? Young people, city folk, and African-Americans. And…Iowa and NH are made up almost entirely of white, rural old people. So Howard Dean, god bless him, (no, really, he's the best thing to happen to the party in 50 years in his role as the chair) decided it might help to include a state whose population is almost entirely urban (Nevada) and one with a very large non-white population (SC). The goal is simple – find a way to stop the Democrats from nominating one uninspiring, unelectable candidate after another. Ever wonder why the Democratic voters always seem so overwhelmingly unenthusiastic about their nominees? Probably because a bunch of rural Iowans picked him.
That's great, you say, but who the hell cares? These calendar games all have a dramatic impact on the kind of person who will be able to succeed. The candidates need to do more in a shorter timeframe (4 weeks from Iowa to Super Tuesday) than ever before, which means they need more money than ever before. This game has always been slanted in favor of the most well-funded candidates (W showed up to the primaries in 2000 with $47 million – McCain was his closest competitor at $5 million) but now it's getting ridiculously so. Only a few of this massive field of candidates can afford the daunting task of campaigning simultaneously in the handful of ultra-crucial "early" states…and then a whopping 22 states on the same day. That's practically like a general election. The insignificant candidates (Richardson, Huckabee, Biden, etc) are trying to do one thing and one thing only right now: stay alive until Iowa/NH and hope for a miracle. If they can catch lightning in a bottle and do well in those, they will suddenly be seen as a "frontrunner" and money will pour in. If they don't do well, they're going to wither on the vine very quickly. As best I can tell, at the moment only Hillary, Rudy, Obama, and Romney (thanks to his personal fortune) can afford the kind of logistical outlay that this insanely front-loaded schedule requires.
So that's your nominee pool. The only way anyone else (Edwards, Huckabee) will seriously get in the race is to put all of their eggs in the Iowa basket and hope for a miracle. It worked for Bill Clinton. Mike Huckabee, I knew Bill Clinton. And you're no Bill Clinton.