SO MUCH ATTENTION is lavished on the early contests in Michigan, Iowa and New Hampshire that it seems only fair to glance at the contests pollster Peter Hart calls "the Lesser Antilles" -- the other primaries and caucuses being held before Super Tuesday March 8.
On the Republican side the first of the Lesser Antilles are the Republican county and state conventions in Michigan, where a Robertson-Kemp alliance now seems ahead of George Bush. Next are precinct caucuses in far-off Hawaii. They're followed by county conventions in Kansas. None of these is likely to break open the Republican contest: Hawaii doesn't seem precedent for anything, and Kansas will surely vote heavily for Bob Dole. Then come precinct caucuses in two small western states: Wyoming's are scattered through February, while Nevada's are scheduled just after the New Hampshire primary. A week after New Hampshire come two genuine contests, the South Dakota primary and the Minnesota precinct caucuses. Bob Dole (who said he went to Mount Rushmore "for a fitting") supposedly is strong in South Dakota. Jack Kemp supposedly has strength with the movement conservatives who throng Minnesota's Independent Republican conventions.
The Democrats, in the meantime, have pledged themselves not to recognize the South Dakota and Minnesota contests as binding. So while the candidates charter planes into Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota Democrats call their contest an "advisory primary." And although Michael Dukakis, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson and Paul Simon joined Walter Mondale at this month's Hubert Humphrey Dinner in St. Paul, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party pledges that the candidate preference ballots that will be taken at its 4,000 precinct caucuses Feb. 23 will be sealed and not opened until some time after Super Tuesday.
Then follow the Maine caucuses Feb. 28 (for the Democrats they're "nonbinding"), Vermont's primary ("nonbinding" for both parties) on March 1 and Wyoming's Democratic county conventions March 5. That same day the Republicans hold a real live primary in South Carolina, which may be a spirited preview of Super Tuesday three days later. George Bush is strong there (his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, is from the state), but Pat Robertson's followers have been getting active in the party, and some think Strom Thurmond will endorse Bob Dole.
Will any of the Lesser Antilles matter? Probably, but no one can be sure which. What they do offer is an opportunity to waylay the front-runners in the Greater Antilles of Michigan, Iowa and New Hampshire.