Saturday, December 16, 2006

Iowa Will Be Key in 2008 Presidential Nominations

In presidential nomination politics, Iowa has long had the reputation as a kingmaker due to its role as the first-in-the-nation caucus. The Democrats have tried to weaken Iowa's grip on selecting the party nominee in 2008 by scheduling additional states -- Nevada and South Carolina -- early in the season. As this Los Angeles Times story relates, however, Iowa remains the key destination for presidential aspirants testing the waters for their 2008 White House bids:

There are two main reasons for the unprecedented flurry of activity. The 2008 contest is the most wide-open presidential race since at least 1952, with no president or vice president running. And once they finish tinkering, both parties will probably telescope a nominating process that was already front-loaded.

That makes it all the more critical to do well in Iowa, to build momentum heading into the rapid-fire series of contests that follow. Iowa's caucuses are set for Jan. 14, 2008, followed five days later by caucuses in Nevada. The New Hampshire primary is tentatively set for three days later. South Carolina is scheduled to vote a week after New Hampshire....

Iowa has been a crucial stop on the presidential campaign trail since 1972, when then-Sen. George S. McGovern of South Dakota used a strong showing to push past better-known rivals and capture the Democratic nomination. Four years later, another dark horse, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, won Iowa and, ultimately, the White House. Since then, presidential candidates have ignored the state at their peril."

All sorts of contests are set up to establish a candidate's viability: How much money has the candidate raised? Which organizers have they hired? What kind of website do they have?" said strategist David Axelrod, a veteran of several Iowa campaigns. "This is the first real contest."

Republicans have their own reasons for showing up early and often. The party's calendar may leave little time to recover from an Iowa stumble. Unlike 2000, when the gap was more than two weeks, the South Carolina primary will probably come just seven days after New Hampshire.

A straw poll set for next August may also be a significant, if unscientific, gauge of strength; in the 2000 campaign, the Iowa results effectively knocked several GOP candidates out of the race, months before any real ballots were cast.

By their nature, the Iowa caucuses require a substantial commitment of time and personal effort, on the part of candidates and the people who judge them. Voting for a presidential nominee here is not as simple as dropping by a polling place or mailing in a ballot.

The caucuses are small gatherings that can last for hours. They require participants to publicly state their candidate preference and, often, defend their choice to argumentative friends and neighbors."

This is not an impulse buy," said Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney who leads Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Iowa effort. "You want to get comfortable with a candidate, as a person as well as on key issues. That takes time. And the more time you spend in Iowa, usually the better the result."
I find the nomination process fascinating. There are, though, several criticisms of the contemporary primary and caucus system. One critique is that the system is too frontloaded, and disproportionate attention goes to the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. These states have small populations -- generally unrepresentative of the nation as a whole -- but they end up playing a disproportionate role in building momentum for candidates.

The early contests also force candidates to build massive campaign warchests -- as the article here points out -- because there's no time to recover a fundraising edge if one falters in one of the early states. Thus, fundraising prowess becames a key characteristic in which candidates gain traction, which might turn off otherwise top-tier candidates from seeking the nomination. A case in point might be Evan Bayh, who has now decided not to seek the Democratic nomination,
according to this Fox News report.

No comments: