Presidential Campaign at Fever Pitch

Jan 3, 2012

Well, now it really is the new year. It’s Tuesday; it’s snowy and bone-chilling cold in much of Michigan, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the presidential campaign is in full steam.

Actually, the campaign never stopped, as far as I could tell, but it’s at fever pitch today, because the Iowa caucuses are tonight. If you like baseball more than politics, this is sort of Opening Day.

Opening Day, except that the exhibition season has already lasted about two years, and the World Series, election day itself, is more than ten months away.

There’s always some resentment in Michigan over the fact that Iowa gets to have the first caucus, and New Hampshire the first primary.  There are those who think we should get to go first, since we are a much bigger and more important state.

Well, don’t feel that way. Nobody ever noticed the Iowa caucuses until a obscure Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter won them 36 years ago, shamelessly hyped the fact, and managed to leverage this all the way to the White House.

Actually he didn’t even win. He finished behind “undecided,” but as we know, marketing is everything. Since then, however, winning in Iowa has frequently meant … nothing at all.

If you are a Republican, just remember that Mike Huckabee won Iowa last time. Past Democratic winners have included non-nominees like Tom Harkin and Dick Gephardt.

There’s a whole lot of disadvantage in voting too soon. Four years ago, in defiance of party rules, Michigan moved its primary up to January, a deal cooked up mainly by Mark Brewer and Jennifer Granholm to try to give the state more clout.

This backfired, badly. The Michigan winners were Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, whose campaign was over long before the snow melted. President Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot.

This year, we are holding our Republican primary on February 28, which makes more sense. Some of the candidates who finish in the basement tonight will be out of the race by then. Michigan’s situation is complicated by the fact that Mitt Romney is seen as a favorite son, though he hasn’t lived here since gasoline was 31 cents a gallon. Still, he has to win big here. Otherwise, he may risk being seen as a loser even if he turns out a winner. Yes, sometimes the rules in politics are even more confusing than those in cricket.

Democrats, by the way, aren’t playing the primary and caucus game this year, since the president is unchallenged for renomination.

Since Michigan is the only state having a primary the last week in February, we are likely to be lavished with attention for,  maybe … ten days. Actually, we’ve had our biggest clout when we held our primary much later. Gerald Ford’s big win here in May 1976 stopped Ronald Reagan from winning the nomination that year. Four years later, the first George Bush’s landslide in Michigan helped win him the vice-presidential nomination. About all that’s really clear is that if you like politics, you are going to get a whole lot more over the next ten months.

And when it’s all over, don’t despair. That just means the next race for governor is about to start.