End Iowa, New Hampshire early vote lock
The Iowa caucuses are over, and the jumbo campaign apparatus that has been camped there for nearly a year quickly packed up and moved to join the political circus that has been similarly entertaining New Hampshire, which holds its primary Tuesday.
Meanwhile in Michigan, just over a month away from its own presidential nominating votes, the airwaves remain still. Candidates fly over the state on their way from Iowa to New Hampshire and back, stopping only occasionally to give a brief speech or pick up a check before rushing back to the two early voting states. It doesn’t make sense.
Iowa offers Democrats 44 delegates, and Republicans 30. New Hampshire has 23 GOP delegates to divvy up, and 32 Democratic delegates.
And Michigan? It has 152 Democratic delegates up for grabs, and 50 Republican.
Yet because Iowa and New Hampshire have the first-to-vote franchise, they have an inordinate influence in selecting the presidential nominees, and in shaping the messages of the campaigns. The also get a ridiculous amount of money showered on them.
The campaigns spent $40 million to sway Iowa caucusers; at the end, the spending hit a $6 million-a-week pace. Over the the past year, Iowa and New Hampshire residents had to be in hiding to avoid bumping into a candidate.
It would be one thing if these two states were microcosms of the nation. But neither represents the industrial or demographic diversity of America.
Fewer people live in Iowa than in Metro Detroit. Ninety-two percent of the population is white; fewer than 1 percent of businesses are owned by African-Americans. New Hampshire is even smaller and, at 94 percent, whiter.
Appealing to Iowa and New Hampshire voters requires different messages than would resonate nationwide. But if candidates fail to move the homogenous voters of these states, they’re at risk of seeing their funding dry up and their ambitions busted.
Presidential hopefuls should have to prove their appeal to a broader audience early on. The primary season should be revamped to force them to spend those early months demonstrating the resources to mount a national campaign.
The parties should replace Iowa and New Hampshire with a multi-state primary, combining states from various regions of the country. Iowa and New Hampshire could be part of that grouping, but they shouldn’t hold exclusive rights.
Limiting the primaries to eight or 10 dates running from early February to late May, and putting four to six states together each time, would more closely mimic what will be required of the eventual nominee in a general election campaign.
They couldn’t get by simply exciting a narrow constituency. You would be less likely to see candidates scurrying from corn field to corn field with a Bible and an “I Heart Ethanol” cap trying to woo evangelical farmers.
Under the current system, we spend a year taking the temperature of voters in two states that won’t matter in November. We might get stronger candidates if we paid more attention to representative states like Michigan.
Nolan Finley’s new book, Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice, is available from Amazon.