Today, the rules panel of the Democratic National Committee voted to strip Florida of its delegates in the the Democratic presidential primary if the Florida Democratic Party does not hold their primary on February 5 or later.
The move is a response to the Florida legislature’s decision to move the Florida primary to January 29, the date of the South Carolina primary, which was otherwise the first Southern primary, against DNC rules. The move is also meant as a deterrent to the state of Michigan, which currently has a bill proposing a January 15 primary, which is earlier than New Hamphire’s January 22 primary, by New Hampshire law and by tradition the first primary in the nation.
Of course, Florida and Michigan are only the extreme examples of states moving up their primaries. Many states have moved their primaries to February 5, including big states like California and New York. This whole process has confused many voters. A common question seen in comments responding to articles about state primary scheduling asks why smaller , more rural states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina should wield the inordinate power of suggestion over the rest of the country, when there are more people to be represented in large states such as California.
This question is a good one. What makes Iowa so special that its voice is heard first? Why does New Hampshire get the first primary? On the surface, it seems that a national primary would be the fairest option, allowing no state’s voters an inordinate amount of power over the rest.
But one only has to look at the current set up of political campaigns to realize why having small states go first is important. As it stands, the candidates’ gateway to voters is the mass media…specifically television. Television enjoys a broad audiance, which allows candidates to put forth their message through campaign advertising.
Of course, this advertising costs money…quite a bit of it. In order to raise the money it takes to make sure that one’s message is heard more than that of any other candidate, candidates spend a good deal of time soliciting private donations through fundraisers.
Donors like betting for winners, so early donors will donate most heavily to candidates with name recognition, such as Hillary Clinton. This leads to the marginalization of less well-known candidates who cannot solicit the money that those with a big name and big brand can.
And that is where small states come in. In states like Iowa and New Hampshire that are not heavily urbanized, candidates have to engage in retail politics, exposing themselves to potential voters. This allows talented but unknown politicians to gain support by personally selling themselves to voters and finally cashing in on the funds that come after winning a primary or caucus, which they can then use to get their message to the bigger states, where retail politics is completely impractical.
While this doesn’t completely level the playing field, and it creates some unfairness in the process, the overall result is positive. It prevents candidates with deep pockets or a big brand from squelching the messages of less wealthy, less well-known candidates. Until we adopt a system of public campaign finance, a staggered primary appears to be the best approach, if an imperfect one, to leveling the playing field.
So in the end, it is good that the DNC is pressuring bigger states like Florida and Michigan to wait their turn in line because that will allow a more open discussion of the issues and make the presidential primary a real contest, not just a battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.