Early Primary Calendar: Why not Oregon?
Editor's note: The following is a guest column by Scott Bellows of Eugene, Oregon. Scott describes himself as a "lawyer, mediator, writer, parent, and politics geek."
From Sunday's Washington Post:
The Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee yesterday dealt a blow to New Hampshire Democrats hoping to keep their coveted place in the presidential nominating schedule, agreeing by voice vote to a plan that would place one or two caucuses between the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 14, 2008, and the New Hampshire primary eight days later.
The proposal, which grew from recommendations by a commission studying how to make the nominating process more diverse both racially and geographically, would also add one or two primaries after the New Hampshire contest but before Feb. 5 -- the date after which any state is free to schedule a vote.
The next step in the process is for states hoping to win an early place in 2008 to submit their proposals to the Rules and Bylaws Committee by April 14. Representatives from states hoping to move up can also make a personal pitch to the committee during the Democratic National Committee's spring meeting April 20-22 in New Orleans.
Most observers believe the additional states will come from the South and the West -- two rapidly growing areas that offer a diverse electorate. South Carolina, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama and Mississippi are among the states under consideration.
Which for me raises two questions:
1. What states are most likely to result in an early victory by a dark horse other than the presumptive frontrunner? THOSE are the states we want to add, because power-broker-engineered juggernauts (more here) both are bad for democracy and, contrary to conventional wisdom, tend to result in candidates who lose in the general election.
2. Why are the only Western states being considered located in the Southwest? Marketing experts commonly test new advertising campaigns in Oregon because it's representative of the nation's overall demographics (it has everything from hippies to farmers to cowboys to millworkers), and because advertising costs are relatively low; those same factors, plus the fact that the state demographically mirrors parts of the more influential states California and Washington and would draw strong media coverage from those larger markets, make Oregon a great choice for an early primary.
Your Personal Note:
I agree that Oregon by itself could be a good state for an early primary or caucus. However, the conventional wisdom is that Iowa and New Hampshire lack Hispanic and Black voters in numbers representative of the nation and the party, and that southwestern and southern states would remedy that in a way the Oregon could not. Oregon by itself might be a good test market, but Oregon plus Iowa plus New Hampshire would be not be. They are too much alike and thus unrepresentative of the country as a whole.
Posted by: Leo Brown | Mar 13, 2006 6:43:17 PM
It would be nice to see Oregon in there, if not just for the fact that it's been so long since the presidential primary actually mattered here.
Oregon has a growing population of minorities and immigrants. It also has a very diverse population.
If they want to make the process fair so that a candidate the nation supports (as opposed to a select few), Oregon would be a good state to add.
I find it ridiculous that so little of the country actually has a say in who becomes the nominee.
Posted by: Jenni Simonis | Mar 13, 2006 8:01:58 PM
Oregon's NW populist tendencies, and west coast flirtations with poorly thought-out non-partisan election schemes make the NW a problematic region for this important partisan nominating activity.
And before anyone takes offense, please take time to consider that both Washington and California have had such nominating schemes thrown out by the Federal courts as being fundamentally unconstitutional. In addition, please also consider that the founders clearly felt that parties are key institutional components of our representative democracy.
If Oregon wants to have an early primary and have it taken seriously, the necessary first step will be to not sign the petition for a "non-partisan primary" and vote against it if it makes it to the ballot.
Posted by: askquestions1st | Mar 13, 2006 8:05:58 PM
I agree with the sentiment that it it wrong that the same people from the same states pick the candidates year after year. I also view with alarm the prodigeous amounts of cash that are being discussed as the entry fee to the presidential contest. Democrats are and should be opening up the nominating process. They need to redouble those efforts. We should also agree to keep fund raising within the federal matching limits until the general election.
Posted by: Leo Brown | Mar 13, 2006 8:09:53 PM
Hey AQ1 -- the Oregon open primary measure doesn't apply to presidential elections.
Posted by: Kari Chisholm | Mar 13, 2006 10:02:17 PM
There is an extremely practical reason that I would like to see an early primary in Oregon. Typically by the time the primary gets around to us, the candidate I would have voted for has dropped out. It would be nice just once to be able to vote for the person I favored, rather than having to vote for one of the leftovers.
Posted by: theanalyst | Mar 14, 2006 6:54:29 AM
Whether the open primary measure applies to the Presidential primary or not is irrelevant, it is the fact that it would demonstrate that Oregonians approach to partisan politics is problematic that would make us non-representative (and appear to be too flaky to be trusted with playing a key role in the nominating process) to the rest of the country.
In large part this is because the explicit intent of this measure is too severely undermine the institutional strength of political parties, which in fact is really about building party identity, mailing lists, candidate recruitment, etc.
So why should the rest of the country want to make a Presidential nominating primary in Oregon central to the process when the people are hostile to the very idea of parties being important in our system as representatives of clearly defined sets of political values and in advancing candidates who represent those values?
Posted by: askquestions1st | Mar 14, 2006 7:12:53 AM
Henry Cuellar is a Texas "Democrat" who actively campaigned for George Bush in 2004, sat on the Republican side of the aisle during the State of the Union, was endorsed by Grover Norquist's Club for Growth, and overwhelmingly votes with the Republican caucus. He just won the Democratic primary, in a Democratic district, over Ciro Rodriguez, a former Congressman who had great publicity, a great voting record, and raised more money (largely due to netroots contributions) than Cuellar did.
Why did Cuellar win? Because Texas has open primaries, and when Republicans know that a Democrat is going to win the general election, they vote in the Dem primary instead, for a stealth candidate.
Open primaries are a disaster for blue states, because, as someone above said, they dilute party identity. Oregon will either become a red state, or will elect representatives who call themselves Dem but really vote Republican like Ben Nelson, if this initiative passes.
Posted by: Thersites | Mar 14, 2006 12:21:08 PM
One major misconception about Oregon One Ballot is that folks are confusing it with other open primaries.
This ballot measure does NOT allow republicans to vote in the democratic primary. It does NOT allow democrats to vote in the republican primary.
Rather, it creates a single primary, in which all candidates are included and all voters are allowed to vote.
In 2006, for example, there would be a single gubernatorial ballot (One Ballot!) with Kulongoski, Sorenson, Hill, Mannix, Saxton, Atkinson, Westlund and the goofballs.
If you can, think of it as an all-comers general election. Then, in November, there's a run-off between the top two.
Very different than Texas.
Posted by: Kari Chisholm | Mar 14, 2006 12:27:28 PM
It seems to me the most strategic primary system would allow the "swing" states from the previous election to choose first. Since the general election is going to come down to who can win Florida, Ohio, and a handful of other close states (including Oregon), the Democratic voters in those states should have a strong voice in determining the candidate. They/we should at least get to choose from the full slate of candidates. The current system is sure NOT the way to go, and I'm glad to see some effort to make it more racially and geographically fair. Swing states going first would accomplish those goals as well.
Posted by: Jonathan Manton | Mar 14, 2006 3:41:59 PM
Ideally, we'd adopt a system like the American Plan, nee the California Plan. Unfortunately, like Esperanto, it's an idea designed so carefully and so scientifically that no one will ever go for it...
Posted by: Nate Currie | Mar 14, 2006 4:37:53 PM
Oregon is not as diverse as some of these other states, which is what the DNC is looking for. Although we are up to 10% Latino, that is nothing compared to other Western states, and our percentage of African Americans is quite low, around 2%, I think. We did have an early pres. primary in '96, but it was bunched up with other states and largely ignored. Dole campaigned here for one day while the other GOP candidates never visited. If the nomination race is at all alive in May, OR receives more than it's share of attention because we are one of the few states left at that point. Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown both campaigned actively in OR in May '92, as did Mike Dukakis and Jesse Jackson in '88 and Gary Hart in '84 (Mondale skipped OR and Hart won big). If Oregon moves to the front like so many states have, we'll be dwared by the bigger states. I, along with five other Democratic activists from OR, wrote the DNC nomination commisison last year and urged them to allow at least three states to share the spotlight of being first. It's too bad that after all that time the commssion spent, they still gave Iowa the covented position of being first, meaning candidates will spend dozens of days there (some over 100)and Archer Daniel Midland we get more support for ethanol. It doesn't matter which state(s)vote after Iowa, because Iowa will receive more attention than everyone else combined.
Posted by: Grant Schott | Mar 15, 2006 5:10:15 PM
I don't think Oregon would be a good primary state either and I've lived between here and Montana for 30 years. Oregon has a larger progressive population than anyplace else in the west, sometimes I think they're further left than California where I grew up. It would be good if you want a guarantee of somebody like Kucinich, but I don't think that would work well with the rest of the country.
I also think the Oregon One Ballot is a good idea, we could end up with two Republicans in November because they have the discipline to stick to two people and we don't.
Posted by: Sandy | Apr 1, 2006 2:46:05 AM
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(and yes, we know that sometimes they're very, very wrong. Other times, they're right on.)