Primary Problem

Mar 4, 2011

If you haven’t been traumatized enough by this seemingly endless winter and the governor’s budget proposals, I’ve got something that may really give you nightmares.

It’s presidential election time again. Now, you may be saying wait a minute. Wasn’t the last congressional election only four months ago? Well, yes. But the presidential election is next year, and the candidates are already out campaigning, though none of them are calling it that. I am aware that people who don’t know each other yet will meet, fall in love, and have babies before we finally get around to voting a year from November.

But presidents have a far longer gestation period. And one sure sign that the election season is on is that the leaders of our two great political parties are once again attempting to screw up the Michigan primary.

They’ve gotten pretty good at this, and last time, the Democrats managed to make themselves the laughingstock of the nation, by holding a primary that was both ruled illegal and invalid and which did not have a guy named Barack Obama on the ballot. 

Early indications are that they’ve learned nothing from their mistakes. Here’s the problem. For many years, the election calendar has worked like this. Iowa goes first, with a set of caucuses which pick that state’s delegates in January. Then, New Hampshire follows with the nation’s first primary election.

Then a couple other small states follow in February, and after that, the other states can do whatever they want. This is a good system, because it allows candidates without much money to be seen and tested in small states where you don’t need millions.

Iowa and New Hampshire are also now swing states that switch sides frequently in November. But Michigan party leaders are jealous. They want to go first. Last time they broke party rules and held a January primary which was a farce.

Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary, as local leaders wanted and expected him to. They wanted to give the home boy a boost. But his candidacy was dead in two months, and Michigan was once again irrelevant. Worse than, in that the party penalized the state by taking away half its delegates, though they gave them back at the last minute. The Democrats were even worse.

Jennifer Granholm and Mark Brewer figured Hillary Clinton was the certain nomination winner, and wanted to curry favor with her.

All the other major candidates kept their names off the ballot, however, and the party refused to seat any of Michigan’s delegates, till the very last minute when it didn’t matter.

Next year, the odds are that President Obama won’t be challenged for renomination, but there will be a big GOP field.

The party would be well advised to keep a cool head and stay within the rules. Later primaries have been decisive. Michigan’s primary in May, 1976 helped save that year’s nomination for Gerald Ford. Four years later, George Bush’s victory in a May Michigan primary was instrumental in gaining him the vice-presidential nomination. So going later isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Legally, we are supposed to hold next year’s primary on Feb. 28, which is still plenty early. Let’s do something amazingly wise for once, and leave it there.