No Way to Choose a President

By David S. Broder
Thursday, May 10, 2007

The true insanity of the altered presidential primary schedule does not become apparent until you actually lay out the proposed dates on a 2008 calendar.

The mad rush of states to advance their nominating contests in hopes of gaining more influence has produced something so contrary to the national interest that it cries out for action.

The process is not over. Just last week, Florida jumped the line by moving its primary up to Jan. 29, a week ahead of the Feb. 5 date when -- unbelievably -- 22 states may hold delegate selection contests, either primaries or caucuses.

Florida's move crowds the traditional leadoff primary in New Hampshire, which had been set for Jan. 22. And New Hampshire is unhappy about the competition from two caucuses planned even earlier in January, in Iowa and Nevada. So its secretary of state, William M. Gardner, who has unilateral authority to set the New Hampshire voting date, is threatening to jump the rivals, even if it means voting before New Year's Day.

This way lies madness.

Instead of there being a steady progression of contests, challenging and whittling the field of contenders in the wide-open races to select a successor to George W. Bush, it is going to be a herky-jerky, feast-or-famine exercise that looks more like Russian roulette than anything that tests who can best fill the most powerful secular office on Earth.

As things stand, the earliest contests in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida will be followed by that indigestible glut of races on Feb. 5.

On that day, voters in the mega-states of California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas will all be called upon to judge the fields of contenders. And so will voters of 17 smaller states, ranging from Alabama to Oregon and from Delaware to Utah.

Most of those voters will never have had an opportunity to get even a glance at the candidates. All they will know is what the ads tell them -- and what the media can supply, when reporters are exhausting themselves dashing after the race from state to state.

Assuming everyone is not burned out, the survivors of this ordeal will find things slowing to a crawl -- and then screeching to a halt.

Maryland and Virginia hold primaries on Feb. 12, and Wisconsin a week later. Then there's a two-week gap, with only the Hawaii and Idaho caucuses, until Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Vermont vote on March 4.

At that point, presidential politics effectively stops for more than two months. Between March 4 and the May 6 contests in Indiana and North Carolina, the only scheduled events are a primary in Mississippi and the Maine Republican caucuses.

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