Surfing the 'Super-Tuesday' wave
A record number of states will participate in the 2008 'Super Tuesday' primary. That has its benefits.
The "Super Tuesday" primary next February includes so many states, it's dubbed "Tsunami Tuesday." Much media and political commentary is voicing alarm, mostly about money and timing. The concerns aren't baseless, but perhaps the best course is to ride this wave, not beat against it.
The issue of the primary schedule has been years in cresting. States that vote midway through or at the end of the primary process complain of less influence – or none at all – compared to those at the beginning, notably Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
The remedy has been to bunch up and move up on the election primary calendar. In 2000, 16 states voted on March 7, known as "Super Tuesday." In 2008, more than 20 states are planning or considering voting on Feb. 5, sometimes called "Super-Duper Tuesday."
This development actually has some significant benefits.
First, and most important, states are on a more equal footing, which is what a democracy should strive for in voting.
Second, more states voting early means that a more diverse group of Americans can be heard sooner. One of the big beefs about the Hawkeye State and the Granite State going first is they aren't sufficiently representative of the nation.
Hispanics and African-Americans, for instance, will be more heavily represented in states such as Nevada, which will hold a caucus on Jan. 19 (five days after Iowa), in the political bellwether state of Florida, which has advanced its primary to Jan. 29, and in the Tsunami Tuesday states, which include several large states, such as California.
Third, the longer campaign season leading up to early primaries is apparently giving several possible candidates the chance to size up the field and jump in later.
More equal-opportunity voting, more diversity earlier in the process, and the potential for more competition – that's not a long list of advantages, but a weighty one.
And what of the concerns? An obvious one is that earlier and simultaneous primaries necessitate more fundraising. Indeed, campaigns have raised record amounts so far. But each presidential election cycle hits a money record. Having to raise more of it is a distressing but old problem.
There's also the concern that candidates won't have the funds and time to give the states the attention they want. True, but they're still giving several of these states (Florida and California, for example) more face time than before. The Internet is also helping to make up for the inability to be in 10 places at once. And if it's house-to-house retail campaigning America wants, it still gets it from Iowa and New Hampshire, which are determined to keep their "first" status.
That determination could cause New Hampshire to move its voting to as early as this December – and therein lies the most serious of the early-primaries criticisms.
Massive voting earlier in the cycle could turn on issues that may no longer be the most relevant come November. And a longer calendar might very well result in further voter fatigue and disinterest.
The focus then, would have to be on shortening the entire process – not on denying states an equal voice. That desire, it's now clear, is unstoppable. Just like a tsunami.