Fewer than 200 Americans -- mostly political scientists and campaign strategists -- are thought to be really familiar with the web of dates, rules, and geography of the six-month long presidential primary season.
"Hodgepodge . . . a real labyrinth," even the experts say of the process beginning in Iowa's rural and down precincts Jan 21.
For Republican candidates, the delegate hunt darts from Iowa to Hawaii, Maine , ArKansas, Wyoming, Virginia Puerto Rico, and Minnesota before hitting the familiar New Hampshire primary landmark Feb. 26. This political roadshow makes some observers predict adoption of a single national primary, which would be simple and swift. Although personally not favoring this step, Austin Ranney of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sees "a national primary down the road in the next 10 or 20 years -- not in 1984, but maybe in 1988 or 1982."
Others feel that the nomination system may be confusing, but it suits the diverse American electorate, which defies tidy mapping.
"This sort of hodgepodge has its advantages," says Elaine Kamarck, the Democratic National Party's delegate rules enforcer. "You see the candidates in the northeast, then in the South, then the Midwest." In this way, she says, a candidate's strengths and weaknesses can be gauged in key settings.
But paradoxes abound in the nomination system.
Despite the two parties having basically separate systems and different rules -- even different totals, with 1,993 Republican and 3,331 Democratic delegates to be won -- the delegate tallies add up at a remarkably similar rate. At the end of February, Republicans will have begun electing 11.6 percent of their delegates to their summer convention, the Democrats 5 percent. By the crucial Illinois primary March 18, the Democratic count will stand at 27.9 percent and the Republican at 29 percent.
At the end of March, after the big New York primary, both parties will have chosen just under 40 percent of their delegates. Both parties will pass the two-thirds mark the first week of May, the three- fourths level the end of May. And on June 3, the last big primary day when both parties will elect a fifth of their delegates, 99 percent will have been chosen in both camps.
This similarity in outcome strikes party professionals as ironic, so different are the Republican and Democratic approaches. "The Republicans are states' rights people," says Mrs. Kamarck. "They let their state organizations do what they want. We Democrats have an enormous bureaucracy. We're like the Feds. We tell the states what to do."
Among the Democratic primary reforms imposed on state organizations are a "proportionality rule" that forbids winner-take-all outcomes, and a rule that requires caucuses to be held on a single day for each level -- precinct, county, congressional district -- to prevent "packing" the events.
Republican caucuses are tricky for the public to follow, because they can be strung out over weeks and months before the result becomes clear in a state party convention. And the Republicans allow winner-take-all results -- though California's block of 168 delegates, over 8 percent of the Republican total, may be split proportionately among rivals who survive until the june 3 primary if petitioners succeed in putting it on the ballot.
Still, a rough equity is achieved by both systems, spokesmen from the two parties say.
"The schedule doesn't really favor any candidate because there is such diversity early on, with the bulk of the population represented from various regions and ideologies," says Jack Mongoven, Republican National Committee delegate expert, agreeing with Mrs. Karmarck.
What the schedule does do is favor the candidate who can show early momentum or staying power.
An emphasis on the early primaries tends to slight the impact of later large state primaries like New York's and California's. But this can be offset when a race runs close and long.
"The impact of states like New York and California is sometimes discounted," says the AEI's Ranney. "But it depends on how close the race is at that stage. It was critical in 1972 when a [Sen. Hubert h.] Humphrey win in California might have derailed [Sen. George] McGovern's candidacy. Yet [Gov. Edmund G.] Brown's win in California in '76 was too late because [President] Carter had it locked up by then."
"At the moment, focusing on the early caucuses and primaries is correct because of their disproportionately large impact," Mr. Ranney says. "Votes are not equal in the primaries. I would put 70 percent of weight or attention on the first 40 percent of the delegate votes, and 30 percent on the last 60 percent."
The first three months of this year could again prove decisive, experts think.
By April 1, the Republican field will be down to three, Mr. Ranney says, with either former UN ambassador George Bush, a Texan, or Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee the "moderate" survivor along with conservative Ronald Reagan. On the Democratic side, if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts "does badly in Iowa or New Hampshire, he's dead," Mr. Ranney says. "We should know by mid-March."
"I think the Illinois primary will be the most revealing," says Republican delegate expert Mongoven of the March 18 event. "It will be the first in a Midwest industrial state, with the urban Chicago and farm-belt factions. It also has a significant number of delegates. Historically, it's pivotal. It will be significant on both sides."
Florida's primary on March 11, one of several primaries for both parties on that date, could tell all, says Bush campaign spokesman Peter Teeley. "The race could be narrowed down to three for the Republican after Florida, and after Illinois it will be basically two -- Reagan and Bush.
"Then it could go a long time, with the conventional wisdom saying that Reagan will begin to do well in the West."
The latest Iowa poll showing Mr. Bush close to Mr. Reagan in Iowa is "likely off," Mr. Teeley says. "We're all -- [former Texas governor John] Connally, Baker, and Bush -- pulling from the same pond, with Reagan with a pond of his own."
Carter strategists say the first test, Iowa, could show how the later game will go. If not Iowa, then Illinois two months lateR. "Kennedy's putting all he's got into Iowa right now," says a Carter strategist. "His best organizers, all his marbles, are in Iowa. We're making our best effort in Iowa. But we're not that reckless. We have our best delegate teams in Maine, Illinois, alabama, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, too. We have a more broad- ranging campaign."
Mr. Kennedy may have more room to say "wait until New Hampshire" than Carter people suggest -- should the Senator's Iowa going prove sluggish -- says Mr. Ranney. "Iowa hasn't displaced New Hampshire as the nation's presidential bellwether, but it has almost become New Hampshire's twin." In Iowa's caucuses, fewer than 10 percent of party members take part, and a large share of those who do remain uncommitted.
The turnout in New Hampshire could be 25 to 30 percent, and votes actually cast, providing a slim but more direct voter test.
A respectable early start to candidates is crucial. "Otherwise, money dries up and workers drift off," Bush spokesman Teeley says.
This principle explains the strategy of Governor Brown, who has focused heavily on New Hampshire. It also underlies the heavy emphasis of Republican John Connally on South Carolina's March 8 primary -- just before the March 11 primaries in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia -- where Mr. Connally needs to show momentum and strength against Mr. Reagan in the South.
In recent years, the power in nomination hunting has swung from caucus states to primary states. In 1980, nearly three-fourths of convention delegates will be chosen in primaries, compared with half in 1968. However, many of the remaining caucuses are bunched closer to the front of the calendar and have gained importance from this position. Also, on the Democratic side Texas and Michigan have dropped primaries in favor of caucuses for 1980, stemming the primary trend, at least for the moment, in that party.
Caucuses are often basically party meetings where platform rules are argued as well as convention delegates chosen. Caucuses also help strengthen the state party, advocates say. "I would be in favor of more caucuses," says the Democrats' delegate specialist Kamarch. "They require a commitment of time. They get people more involved in party organization and issues. Voting in primaries takes no commitment."
The recent shift to primaries, which give a single-shot, one-day result compared with the drawnout caucuses, where party leaders could once exert force, also troubles Republican professionals.
"There isn't a feeling the current process is a disaster," says Mr. Mongoven. "This is the ball game we have, one we can play in nicely.
"But there is a disquieting feeling about it to party officials. They feel Carter could never have been elected without the primaries. Eisenhower and Stevenson were picked by the party pros. But you don't have any political bosses left who can wheel and deal with their state delegations at party conventions."
"I don't see any sign of a return to caucuses," says Mr. Ranney. "I'd like to go back to the days of the smoke-filled room. But that won't happen."
The nomination race has become much more a media and less a party organization event, experts like Mr. Ranney observe. "The media -- particularly television -- are in such a competitive situation to get the scoop they will use whatever numbers they can get." Primary election results -- even when they do not bind delegates to the national conventions -- are useful "in calling the horse race -- who's winning and by how much," he says.
With primaries, a candidate's momentary image can count more toward survival than his long-haul appeal to the party and national spectrum, factors "the pros" supposedly considered before rules were "democratized" by party reforms over the past decade and a half.
In any event, with the Iowa caucuses this week, the candidates are off and running. The accompanying Monitor primary amd caucus calendars should help observers keep track of the checkpoints as they are passed.
Republicans -- Caucus and primary dates Date State No. of Percent delegates of total delegates Jan. 21 Iowa (C) 37 1.9 Jan. 22 Hawaii (C) 14 .7 Feb. 1 Maine (C) 21 1.0 Feb. 2 Arkansas (C) 19 .9 Feb. 4 Wyoming (C) 19 .9 Feb. 15 Virginia (C) 51 2.5 Feb. 17 Puerto Rico (P) 14 .7 Feb. 26 Minnesota (C) 34 1.7 New Hampshire (P) 22 1.1 March 1 North Dakota (C) 17 .9 March 4 Massachusetts (P) 42 2.1 n1 Vermont (P) March 6 Alaska (C) 19 .9 March 8 South Carolina (P) 25 1.2 March 11 Alabama (P) 27 1.4 Florida (P) 51 2.5 Georgia (P) 36 1.8 Washington (C) 37 1.8 March 18 Illinois (P) 102 5.1 March 25 Connecticut (P) 35 1.7 New York (P) 123 6.2 March 29 Missouri (C) 37 1.9 April 1 Delaware (C) 12 .6 Kansas (P) 32 1.6 Wisconsin (P) 34 1.7 April 5 Louisiana (P) 30 1.5 April 7 Oklahoma (C) 34 1.7 April 15 Arizona (C) 28 1.4 April 22 Pennsylvania (P) 83 4.2 Vermont (C) 19 .9 May 3 Texas (P) 80 4.0 May 5 Colorado (C) 31 1.5 May 6 Dist. of Columbia (P) 14 .7 Indiana (P) 54 2.7 North Carolina (P) 40 2.0 Tennessee (P) 32 1.6 May 13 Maryland (P) 30 1.5 Nebraska (P) 25 1.3 May 19 Utah (C) 21 1.0 May 20 Oregon (P) 29 1.5 Michigan (P) 82 4.1 May 27 Idaho (P) 21 1.0 Kentucky (P) 27 1.4 Nevada (P) 17 .8 June 3 California (P) 168 8.4 Mississippi (P) 22 1.1 Montana (P) New Jersey (P) 66 3.3 New Mexico (P) 22 1.1 Ohio (P) 77 3.9 Rhode Island (P) 13 .7 South Dakota 22 1.1 West Virginia 18 .9 June 4 Montana (C) 20 1.0 Guam 4 .2 Virgin Islands 4 .2 1,993 (C) -- Caucus (P) -- Primary
n1 Vermont -- unless a candidate gets 40 percent of vote which would give him 10 of 19 delegates from April 22 caucus.
Democrats -- Caucus and primary dates Date State No. of Percent delegates of total delegates Jan. 21 Iowa (C) 50 1.5 Feb. 10 Maine (C) 22 .6 Feb. 26 Minn. (C) 75 2.3 N.H. (P) 19 .5 March 1 Wyoming (C) 11 .3 March 4 Vermont (P) Massachusetts (P) 111 3.3 March 11 Alabama (P) 45 1.4 Alaska (C) 11 .3 Florida (P) 100 3.0 Georgia (P) 63 1.9 Hawaii (C) 19 .6 Oklahoma (C) 42 1.3 Washington (C) 58 1.7 March 12 Delaware (C) 14 .4 March 15 South Carolina (C) 37 1.1 Mississippi (C) 32 1.0 March 16 Puerto Rico (P) 41 1.2 March 18 Illinois (P) 179 5.4 March 22 Virginia (C) 64 1.9 March 25 Connecticut (P) 54 1.6 New York (P) 282 8.5 April 1 Kansas (P) 37 1.1 Wisconsin (P) 75 2.3 April 5 Louisiana (P) 51 1.5 April 12 Arizona (C) 29 .9 April 14 Vermont (C) 12 .4 April 17 Idaho (C) 17 .5 April 22 Missouri (C) 77 2.3 Pennsylvania (P) 185 5.6 April 26 Michigan (C) 141 4.2 May 3 Guam (C) 4 .1 Texas (C) 152 4.6 May 5 Colorado (C) 40 1.2 May 6 Indiana (P) 80 2.4 North Carolina (P) 69 2.0 Tennessee (P) 55 1.7 Dist. of Columbia (P) 19 .6 May 13 Maryland (P) 59 1.8 Nebraska (P) 24 .7 May 19 Utah (C) 20 .6 May 20 Michigan (P) Oregon (P) 39 1.2 May 27 Arkansas (P) 33 .9 Kentucky (P) 50 1.5 Nevada (P) 12 .4 Idaho (P) June 3 California (P) 306 9.2 Montana (P) 19 .6 New Jersey (P) 113 3.4 New Mexico (P) 20 .6 Ohio (P) 161 4.8 Rhode Island (P) 23 .7 South Dakota (P) 19 .6 West Virginia (P) 35 1.0 June 7 Latin Americans 4 .1 Virgin Islands 4 .1 Americans Abroad 4 .1 North Dakota 14 .4 3,331 (C) -- Caucus (P) -- Primary