Prime time Featured

9:52am EDT July 22, 2002

Ever wonder why Ohio’s primary elections seem to come around earlier each year? It’s basic politics, of course.

Ohio is among several states competing for the prestige, influence and revenue generated by increasingly expensive presidential campaigns. And, as the theory goes, the state that manages to schedule the earliest presidential primary is likely to reap the greatest rewards.

The one-upmanship has gotten so bad, in fact, that the New Hampshire legislature, anxious to protect its traditional first-in-the-nation presidential preference pool, recently passed a bill allowing the state to hold its 2000 primary in 1999 if necessary. As it stands now, more than half of the presidential caucuses and primaries have been scheduled between the beginning of February and March 14, creating the most compressed presidential nominating season ever.

California sparked the race for early primary dates by advancing its contest from early June to the first Tuesday in March, ensuring that the four largest states — California, New York, Texas and Florida — will all hold their primaries March 7 or 14.

Taking its cue from California, Ohio moved its primary to March 7, while Michigan, Virginia and Washington have all leapfrogged into February, directly challenging the supremacy of New Hampshire and Iowa.

With other states clearly no longer intimidated about moving up their primaries, the New Hampshire legislature has gone to great lengths to protect the state’s status. A bipartisan group of state political figures has urged presidential candidates to sign a pledge promising not to campaign in any state that holds its primary within seven days of New Hampshire’s.

So far, eight candidates have signed the pledge: Pat Buchanan, George W. Bush, Bill Bradley, Elizabeth Dole, Al Gore, John Kasich, John McCain and Bob Smith. Five others have refused: Lamar Alexander, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Dan Quayle.

“The state’s efforts to maintain its influence and position are in danger of becoming absurd,” says Dartmouth College political science professor Dean Spiliotes.

Supporters of the move say the nation’s first primary is worth millions of dollars in revenue as politicians and journalists crowd the state’s hotels and restaurants. They also argue that the state’s primacy has political merit, since New Hampshire is one of the few places in the nation where White House wannabes are forced to spend time meeting with individual voters, rather than inundating the airwaves with largely negative campaign ads.

Political experts say the push for earlier primaries will favor candidates with large campaign warchests and essentially limit the access of voters to candidates during the time the potential nominees are most likely to listen.

Louisiana and Delaware are the only two states that have yet to set a primary date. That doesn’t mean they’re not interested in such matters, however. Louisiana officials are actually pushing to leap ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa both chronologically and technologically by setting a Jan. 29 primary date that would include Internet voting. Details have not been fully worked out, but an Internet firm called Vote.Here.net is working on a proposal.

The idea is far from reality, however, and proponents face the task of overcoming both internal opposition and pressure from national party officials.

“My take on this is: www.bad-idea.com,” state Senator Jay Dardenne told the Associated Press. “Maybe I’m just a stick-in-the-mud, but I like the old-fashioned way and I’m not sure we’re ready for this.”

Source: www.stateline.org