February 16, 2004

Debating the primary schedule

Campaign higher-ups from the Clark and Lieberman campaigns debate the front-loaded primary schedule over at TNR. All things considered, the plan of getting an early nominee and wiping away an ugly primary battle is probably a pretty good one. Only two real problems exist. First, voters in later states have no real reason to follow the race, leading to increased disinterest and apathy. This could be partially mended, of course, by randomizing the order of primary states each year-- knocking New Hampshire down a notch and giving a state like Pennsylvania a reason to get excited. But really, it seems like it can only help the Democrats by campaigning heavily in every state, turning out voters and generating discussion. It would be interesting to check whether 'early' primary states have a higher turnout in the general election.

The second problem is that a quick nominee like Kerry avoids having his faults and dirty laundry aired in the primary, making him much less battle-tested for the general election. Perhaps. But this could also be a virtue. It seems to me that it would be easier for accusations against Kerry to 'stick' if they were made by fellow Democrats in the primary. A Republican smear that crops up in the general election looks like just that, a Republican smear. But an accusation or criticism that has been around since the primaries looks like conventional wisdom, and might be harder to shake. Again, it would be interesting to check to see how many important candidate criticisms are birthed in the general election campaigns, as opposed to taking form in the primaries. For instance, Al Gore was the mastermind behind the Willie Horton attack against Dukakis in 1988. Would Bush Sr. have been able to make that criticism stick if it hadn't been around for so long? It's worth researching, I guess, next time I have a few hours in front of Lexis-Nexis...
-- Brad Plumer 7:57 PM || ||