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Moving Targets: The Trouble With Early Primaries

The 2008 presidential contest has dominated political news for over a year, starting almost immediately after the 2006 midterm elections.  Most of the coverage has devolved, as it always does, to discussion of the “horse race” among the candidates, the competition for fundraising, and an insufferably large number of debates and fora that few actual voters watch.  Amid the chaos, the more significant process of scheduling the voting has largely escaped the general public’s attention.  What will ultimately determine the nominees for president in both parties are the rivalries among states seeking precedence in the primary elections and the contest for control of the process between the national and state parties.  In the current cycle, state parties are setting the schedule and dominating the process.  At first glance, this might seem a welcome change, but instead of vivifying and broadening the presidential primaries to make more states relevant to the nominating process, it threatens to make many states jockeying for position even less influential than they have been in previous elections.

The stampede of two-dozen states to move their elections and caucuses to early February (or even earlier) has revealed the limits and weaknesses of national party organizations in governing the selection of their nominees, but these states may have inadvertently bound themselves more closely to the outcomes...

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