Domino Effect Seen Likely in Early Primaries

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - With a crowded presidential political field for 2008, the primary schedule may leave some of the lesser known candidates in their opponents' dust.

The primary schedule has over the years become increasingly frontloaded, with a compressed schedule very early in the year. For 2008, Nevada, California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey are vying for earlier time slots. Nevada has even secured a spot between the two most influential and earliest primaries - Iowa and New Hampshire.

Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire, said states are moving up their primaries "for internal political reasons to try and make their state more important in the nomination process to make sure that candidates come and talk to their states."

"[Frontloading] has an important impact on democracy and how we choose candidates in the United States - a very profoundly negative impact," Smith told Cybercast News Service.

"With frontloading, the nomination process has been shortened," he noted. "In the 1970s and 1980s, the candidate selection wasn't determined 'til May or so before a candidate would have enough delegates to win the nomination.

"By 2004, that was over by the middle of March, and effectively it was over after the New Hampshire primary, because when you have a frontloaded schedule without much time or space between the primaries, candidates don't have the opportunity to go to the next state and really campaign, really talk with voters, really meet voters," Smith said.

"What happens is the momentum they get from winning the prior primary just causes them to win the next one," he added. "It's like a row of dominoes. If you put the dominoes closer and closer together and hit the first one over, they all tumble."

Smith said candidates who do not have considerable funding or who are not well-known "have their work cut out for them in a shortened primary schedule to make sure that they're visible."

"Visible candidates are perceived as viable candidates," he said. "It's going to take them longer to do that and take them longer to raise the money they need to do that. A lot of it comes down to money. Money is critical."

"[New Hampshire] is a small state, and candidates without a lot of money or name recognition can still go out, and the people of New Hampshire will entertain any candidate that comes along," Smith said. There is a real opportunity for an unfunded or less well-funded candidate to do well in this state.

"If you don't have New Hampshire fulfilling this role, what you'll end up with is essentially an advertising campaign," he said.

But New Hampshire has a state law saying its primary must occur one week before any similar contest. Iowa's caucus had been grandfathered in and was usually held before the New Hampshire primary.

With Nevada's new primary schedule, there have been talks of moving the Granite State's primary into 2007 even though violating the schedule could cost the state its voting rights at the nominating convention.

"The secretary of state will not let any other state encroach upon New Hampshire," said Smith. "I think that they'll be moving it ahead of Iowa."

"New Hampshire forces candidates to get out there and talk with the voters. Instead of talking to voters, campaigns will be putting out 15- to 30-second TV ads, which are not going to contain much information, are not going to give candidates the ability to listen to voters, and it's going to diminish the quality of the candidates we're going to get," he said.

Noting the size of the states crowding the field, Smith said, "You can't run a shoe leather campaign in California. You get more of an empty-calorie television campaign instead of a substantive ground campaign."

According to the proposed calendar, 22 states would be decided in the first four weeks.

Conventions 'less significant'

John Fortier, a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, observed that the primary schedule is "in flux, and we won't know the final order of states for a while."

Fortier told Cybercast News Service the change in the primary schedule will in part change the process demographically. "Democrats were looking for some early states with greater racial diversity than Iowa and New Hampshire, so the Hispanic vote in Nevada and the African American vote in South Carolina will be part of the early process."

"One other interesting note is that some of the big Western states rely heavily on absentee balloting," he said. "In California, we could see over 50 percent of voters cast absentee ballots, and those ballots are available well before the election.

Fortier said if California was to move its primary to early February, large numbers of California voters could be voting after Christmas. "This might mean that candidates would have to take California seriously and spend money there even before Iowa and New Hampshire."

"The period between when we know who the nominee will be and the conventions is getting longer," he observed. "The primaries are getting earlier, and the conventions have been pushed to late August and early September. This means we have a very long time [March to late August] where very little happens in a formal way on the campaign."

The conventions, which were traditionally where a nominee was announced, are "less significant in the sense that there is almost always a candidate at the convention who already has a majority of delegates going in," Fortier said.

"There is no more back-room dealing for delegates at the convention," he said. "This happens because a candidate who wins in the early primaries tends to scare away other candidates, who have a hard time raising money and competing in later states."

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