Primaries: Why Stay Tuned?

Many voters may have already tired of the 2000 presidential race. It's been chugging along, after all, for more than six months, with another 10 to go.

But this race is shaping up to be of more than common interest, for a number of reasons. So bear with us, all you who have already seen more political ads than you want to, as we count a few of these:

*Actual competition. What had once seemed a mere formality before crowning Al Gore and George W. Bush is becoming the hardest-fought primary season in decades. The challengers, Bill Bradley and John McCain, clearly have a shot now. Their "outsider" campaigns have caught on with many voters - and particularly with the independents who can swing elections in some important primary states.

*Issues will count. In the next few weeks before initial contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the leading contenders will be striving to distinguish themselves from one another. Thus the Bradley-Gore debate over health-care policy and the McCain-Bush tussle over tax cuts will intensify and broaden. Issues of concern to most voters, from Social Security's future to campaign-finance reform, will be addressed. Yes, the autobiographical, character themes will continue, but issues will loom larger and larger.

*This primary season could shape future ones. Its main innovation, bunching contests in February and March, has pluses and minuses. With states like California now earlier in the process, a bigger chunk of the electorate will have a greater say in the outcome. It could be all over by mid-March. And the public, theoretically at least, will have a longer breather before the race heats up again in summer. But it has also made the quest for campaign funds even more decisive, since candidates need a big cash reserve to buy TV time in the early contests, especially those in megastates like California. This year's process should spawn useful discussion of how to do it better.

A fourth reason to pay attention, of course, is the obvious one: The world's most powerful nation is choosing someone to lead not only Americans, but to a significant degree the world, toward a surer grasp on peace and prosperity in the next century/millennium.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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