Thursday, March 20, 2008

What's wrong with the current primary system?

Less than a month ago, so little was known about Sen. Obama that he seemed to be a 'blank slate.' This week, we are beginning to get to know him. We, for example, now know that he takes seriously the views of people who believe that the United States government created the AIDS virus in a laboratory to kill African Americans. Today, he also described the characteristics of the 'typical white person.' (Tell me, dear reader, do you obey the description of 'typical' for your race?) But, the primary season was compressed by a series of states that all wanted to have early primaries. So, what we learn this week is too late to influence the bulk of the primaries: The large states had their primaries before there was reasonable time to investigate the candidates. This is why the primary season needs to stretch over months and why the large states, whose pledged delegates usually decide the nominee, should not vote until months after the smaller states have started voting.

The other problem is campaign finance reform. A series of laws enacted over the past 3+ decades have made fundraising extremely difficult. The result is that (a) candidates must devote most of their time to fundraising, rather than campaigning, and (b) they have to raise a lot of money before the primary season even starts. In previous times, an unknown candidate could do well in Iowa or New Hampshire (where campaigning is cheap) and then raise money before the campaigns in the large (expensive) states even began. The result of the combination of campaign finance reform and the compressed primary season is that no candidate has a chance unless (a) he is personally worth millions, such as Mitt Romney and Steve Forbes, or (b) he has the national stature to raise millions before Iowa.

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