Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nevada caucus.

New Hampshirites are up in arms over the DNC plan to schedule a Nevada caucus during the eight days between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

New Hampshirites of course have a tradition of being first, in fact the state law requires that New Hampshire's primary be scheduled 'a week before any similar contest.'

But traditions aren't necessarily always a good thing. Certainly that has not proven true for the Democrats; Although the Iowa caucuses have been held for almost a century before New Hampshire's primary, likely the modern era could be said to have started in 1976, when wins in Iowa and then New Hampshire catapulted the Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, to the nomination and eventually the White House. However, since then, the only elections the Democrats have won are the two when Clinton won (and in 1992, he actually lost the New Hampshire primary, but dubbed himself 'the comeback kid' for not losing to Paul Tsongas as badly as people expected he would.)

Prior to 1976, the Iowa caucuses were pretty much ignored, but now they are mandatory (just ask Wesley Clark, who skipped Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, where he was drubbed soundly by momentum John Kerry brought with him from Iowa.) Of course, given Iowa's predilection for hold caucuses as they have for 100 years, New Hampshirites have come to accept Iowa's position. And one point that is always made by supporters of the status quo is that New Hampshire and Iowa are two of the three 'purple' states in the 2000 and 2004 elections, having both voted for Bush once and against him once, while the other 47 states remained in the same column for 2004 that they had been in in 2000.

One could make that argument, but on closer inspection it is flawed. The 'purpleness' of both New Hampshire and Iowa is less due to a feeling of moderation than it is of the fact that both parties have roughly equal numbers of activists in those states. In primaries, the progressive activists show up and want to vote for the more liberal Democratic candidates, while Republican primary voters are usually more conservative than those Republicans who don't vote in primaries. This is even more true in caucuses. The fact that in those states the parties are roughly equal to each other in numbers, power and influence is irrelevant to whether the activists in either state represent 'the center' any more than they would in any other state.

As to the inclusion of Nevada for an early caucus (which is not a primary, which is why New Hampshire claims that its law is followed with respect to the Iowa caucuses), I would argue that the early Nevada caucus is more representative than either of the early primaries (and apparently the DNC agrees). It is probably true that Nevada won out over Arizona and other western states because of Harry Reid, but so what? If anything, that just shows that our first task here in Arizona as Democrats is to elect a Democrat to the Senate.

Nevada is a little redder than perfectly purple, having voted for George Bush in both 2000 and 2004 (though in neither case by a large margin, and in 2004 it was likely helped by Sproul and Associates, a Republican linked firm that was hired to register voters there and simply threw stacks of Democratic registration forms in the trash. On the other hand, the country was a little redder than perfectly purple in both elections, as George Bush won both times (I know, we could debate that, but let it stand for now as a statement of observation) and Congress has been Republican. And, except for 1976, when the state picked Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter, Nevada has voted for the winner every single Presidential election since the last time it was on the losing side, in 1908 by picking William Jennings Bryan over William Howard Taft (that was the last time the Cubs won the World Series, so it really has been a long time). So if Nevada over the past couple of elections has been slightly Republican, it only reflects where the country has been.

So a narrowly Republican state like Nevada is exactly the kind of place that Democrats need to turn around in order to win. A candidate who appeals to voters in Nevada might arguably be better able to win than a candidate who appeals to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Here is my beef though. In 2004, the Democratic party 'front-loaded' the primary schedule. By March 2, just over a month into the primary season, John Kerry had chased all of his major rivals out of the race and wrapped up the nomination. After Iowa and New Hampshire, no one really got to vet him, just pretty much either vote for him or throw your vote away. After that, five full months went by until the convention, by which time a lot of the enthusiasm people once had, had died. This was all advertised as about 'fundraising.' And about giving the party someone to rally behind.

OK, Democrats all rallied around Kerry in the general. And he did have lots of time to raise money. Now, you can see how successful that was. Would it have really hurt to have states vote in ones and twos? stretch the meaningful primary season until, say, May, just to make sure that people will have a chance to know who is running and decide whether to support that candidate?

That would also allow a candidate to be more thoroughly vetted by voters.


Tom & Icy said...

Caucus sounds like a bad word.

Anonymous said...

Have any details of Nevada's planned 2008 caucus been announced yet? I ask this because the word "caucus" does not automatically mean an open-meeting format like Iowa has.

In 2004 New Mexico Democrats held an early presidential caucus to (1) get candidates to spend time campaigning in the state and (2) have some real say in who eventually won the nomination. (They got their first desire but not their second.) The caucus, however, was actually a primary in which Democrats simply cast ballots for their preferred candidate and the totals were added up after the polls closed. However, because this "primary" was run by the Democratic party rather than by the state government it was termed a "caucus".

If Nevada intends to run something in 2008 similar to what New Mexico did in 2004 then New Hampshire would have a real serious and legitimate beef with party officials' decision. But if Nevada is planning something along the Iowa open-forum lines then New Hampshire really doesn't have a legitimate beef, imo.