Almost unnoticed, the Democratic Party has made some potentially dramatic changes in its presidential nominating calendar.
At this point, it is speculative what impact these changes will have, but once again the famous "Uncertainty Principle" of the physicist Heisenberg is put into play. Dr. Heisenberg's idea was originally meant to apply to subatomic physics when he suggested that any measuring device will alter what it is measuring. We now know that this is also a seemingly social principle, and I am convinced that changing the political calendar in 2008, and creating a new method of measuring Democratic Party sentiment, may bring unexpected consequences.
In Chicago, the Democratic National Committee under the leadership of its own Dr. Strangelove, Howard Dean, decreed that the traditional first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary will now be joined by one other of each. Following the Iowa caucus, now scheduled on Jan. 14, 2008, there will be a caucus in Nevada the following Saturday. After the New Hampshire primary, now scheduled on Jan. 22, 2008, the South Carolina primary will take place a week later on Saturday, Jan. 29.
There is no assurance, however, that these dates are firm. The Democratic Party chairman of New Hampshire is furious at this interference with his state's traditional prerogative, and has indicated that his state might move its primary to an earlier date. This would force Iowa to do the same. The Democratic National Committee has in turn threatened any state which breaks their just-established calendar with denial of delegate seating at the Democratic National Convention, but it seems an empty threat.
The complaint has been, of course, that Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the American electorate, and that this circumstance often leads each party to pick an inappropriate presidential candidate.
Proponents of the traditional calendar, however, argue that Iowa and New Hampshire are small enough for the various candidates to campaign for some time in a retail fashion, meeting individual voters and trying out their campaign issues. This natural "vetting", they would argue, is the most valuable process of the primary season.
Nevada is one of the fastest-growing western states (where Democrats have been weak in recent years). South Carolina is a southern state (where Democrats have also been losing). Both have notable ethnic populations. Nevada has a significant Hispanic population, and South Carolina a large black population. This "diversity" continues to be an important issue for Democrats, even as there is evidence that the traditional ethnic make-up of the Democratic base is beginning to evaporate.
President Bush made significant gains for his party in 2004 among Hispanic voters. The large number of high-profile blacks in top jobs in his administration, and the recruitment by RNC chair Ken Mehlman of black candidates for major offices in 2004, points toward continued gains for the GOP among black voters, especially from the rapidly growing black middle class.
Finally, Jewish voters, historically overwhelmingly Democratic in their voting patterns, are being provoked out of the party by the Democratic left wing base's increasingly anti-Israel attitudes. Most Democratic politicians remain pro-Israel, but, as election analyst Michael Barone points out, the Republican Party and GOP political leaders have been very pro-Israel in recent years, and senistive to Jewish issues.
Noteworthy is the fact that the Republican Party has given no indication of following the Democrats in changing their calendar. They need not, and apparently will not, schedule any caucus or primary to interfere with Iowa and New Hampshire.
The new calendar will aggravate the pressure on all presidential candidates to raise huge sums of cash early, inasmuch as it will simply cost more to compete early in four states instead of two. The two new states are relatively small, and so it will be possible to preserve some of the personal "retail" campaigning in them, but in order to do so, the presidential campaigns will have to begin earlier so that credible efforts can be made in all four states.
In the past, serious candidates could choose to run in New Hampshire, but not in Iowa. With four early states from different regions, it will be very risky for a candidate to avoid one or more of these states. This is because those who do run in all of them, and are successful, will have even more momentum for the next series of primaries, especially since all four regions of the country would have been represented. The trend toward front-loading the Democratic contests would further make it problematic for any candidate to then emerge after the Iowa-Nevada-New Hampshire-South Carolina quartet of contests.
It is perhaps too early to speculate on the impact of this new calendar on the likely Democratic contestants for the presidential nomination. Campaigns will have to go back to a new paradigm of logistics and strategic drawing boards. But it is difficult to imagine how the new calendar would help any current frontrunner from a large eastern state.
It is possible that this innovation will work positively, in spite of the difficulties listed above. But those who think changing the calendar will solve the Democrats' long-term political problems are missing a fundamental point, i.e., that the Democrats so far in the midterm elections are moving rapidly to the left, focusing on creating new government programs and raising taxes, and on precipitously ending our involvement in Iraq, thus arguably jeopardizing the country's national security.
Not all Democratic leaders feel that way, nor does a significant segment of the Democratic voting base, but it certainly is the trend among Democratic activists, blogs and party officials under chairman Dean.
The new calendar has been advocated for and designed by this latter group.
The mid-term elections just ahead must first be concluded, however, before we know where this political party is really going and what kind of presidential candidate the Democrats are likely to choose in 2008.