States Rush to Early Position in 2004 Primaries

Fed up with Iowa and New Hampshire getting all of the attention, other states are rushing to move up their presidential primaries, resulting in what election analysts are calling a worrisome front-loading phenomenon.

“Remember Super Tuesday? Well, it’s in February now,” noted Kay Albowicz, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State (search).

Albowicz said the trend for earlier primaries has been building for nearly 20 years. In 1984, only eight states held their primaries and caucuses by the end of March.  The front-loading trend led to states scheduling more primaries by the second week of March, traditionally known as Super Tuesday (search). Now that target is moving into early February.

So far in the 2004 presidential cycle, Arizona, Delaware, South Carolina and Missouri have scheduled their primaries for Feb. 3 — the closest date they can come to the New Hampshire primary, which according to state law must be held seven days before every other state's primary.

This year, Democratic Party officials have also driven forward caucuses in New Mexico and Michigan, now scheduled for Feb. 3. By law, Iowa must hold its caucus at least eight days before other states.

Changes are pending in other states as well, according to Albowicz, who has put together a list of the dates on the association’s Web site.

“I think it’s becoming more intense — states are seeing the role that New Hampshire and Iowa get to play,” said Rashad Robinson, national field director for the Center for Voting and Democracy (search).

Because the Iowa and New Hampshire events are the first — Jan. 19 and Jan. 27 respectively — the results of these races are seen as pivotal for the party nominating process and the general election to come.

It also means candidates spend inordinate amounts of time and money wooing party officials and voters in these states in anticipation of making a big splash and a head start out of the election gate.

Officials in New Hampshire and Iowa have staunchly defended their role in the process, insisting that this method allows the “little guy” to have a say in choosing the nominees. It also forces candidates to get out and meet voters directly — an opportunity missed by most everyone else in the country.

“What New Hampshire brings to the process can’t really be replicated,” insisted Pamela Walsh, communications director for the Democratic Party in New Hampshire, noting that it was the first in the country to hold popular primaries in 1952.

But observers say that a lot of money has been dumped into those states through political advertising and candidates' trips to sway fund-raisers and voters. They say it has made the process lopsided — with states with later dates getting short shrift.

“If you think about how policies will flow based on the people trying to court these states, you have to think about how unfair this process is to so many other states,” said Robinson, noting that often “swing states” like Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania also get disproportionate attention from candidates. “Is this necessarily good for the governing of an entire country?”

Trying to prevent becoming inconsequential, South Carolina Democrats successfully moved up their primary date to Feb. 3.

“It’s critical for the South — whichever party you look at — we want to be equally important,” said Joanie Lawson, executive director of the South Carolina Democrats. “We want to give the Southern states a voice when it comes to electing the president.

“You expect to have a good idea of who the nominee is going to be by March. If your date is later than that, your state’s role is diminished.”

According to Eric Appleman, who runs the Democracy In Action Web site, front-loading in the 2000 presidential campaign led to 42 percent of Republican delegates and 39 percent of Democratic delegates chosen by March 7.

“In 2004, the crush date could occur a month earlier,” he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans — seeing that their nominee will most assuredly be President George W. Bush — couldn't care less when the primaries and caucuses are scheduled. In fact, several states are considering canceling their GOP primaries, citing budget crises. Colorado’s primary has already been canceled, forcing the Democratic Party to hold a caucus.

Primaries are also on the chopping blocks in Michigan, Utah and Missouri. A plan to cancel the primary failed recently in Arizona and Kansas.