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Early Presidential Primaries

This spring, the Democratic party began a debate over the Presidential primary process and proposed, in the name of fairness and diversity and a host of other wonderful-sounding principles, that other (presumably more “diverse” and “representative”) states hold primaries ahead of New Hampshire in the next Presidential election. Although evidence of New Hampshire voters acting in a particularly parochial or unrepresentative fashion in previous years is distinctly not in evidence, the argument is nevertheless that the small and predominately white and rural population of New Hampshire cannot possibly reflect the broader national interest and is afforded, therefore, a disproportionately large voice in the selection of Presidential candidates.

Leaving aside the partisan political aspects of this fight, there are sound reasons why the earliest Presidential contests should take place over a long time-frame and in small states with a history of civic-mindedness and political engagement. New Hampshire may not be the only such state, but it certainly fits that description well.

Derrick Z. Jackson, of The Boston Globe, took up the cause with a column advocating early and clustered primaries in a host of “diverse” states. I wrote this letter to suggest why that might be a bad idea. It was not published.

3 May 2006

Whether those states are Iowa and New Hampshire or some others, equally small and compact, there is, notwithstanding the preferences expressed by Derrick Z. Jackson and the leaders of the Democratic party, a benefit to holding our first caucuses and primaries in states that are neither so large as to prevent effective personal politics nor so dominated by a single large media market as to require enormous sums of money even to begin a campaign.

As a native and resident of New Hampshire, I would not object to having the first primary moved about among other states equivalently engaged politically and convivial to the small-scale and personalized campaigns of underdogs and unknowns. But to use the pursuit of diversity, as Mr. Jackson does, as an excuse to move the early action to a New Jersey or a New York or an Illinois would effectively eliminate such candidates by shifting the focus of the early campaign from ideas and force of character to who has the money for enormous media buys.

For your consideration, I would submit that such a move would have made it impossible for some relatively unknown and underfunded but charming southern governor — say someone like Bill Clinton — to have emerged as a serious candidate. And I submit it would likely have prevented some brand-name candidate anointed and bankrolled by the political party establishment — say someone like George W. Bush — from having to confront any serious challenge or insurrection by the dissatisfied centrists who almost made John McCain the candidate in his place.

Is that what Mr. Jackson and his compatriots really want?

(C) Copyright 2006, Augustus P. Lowell

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