Q: Ace, I feel like a terrible American for saying this, but I am sick of this Democratic presidential primary stuff. Every time I look at the paper, turn on the TV or listen to NPR all I hear is Dean this, Kerry that, Edwards something else. Has the primary hoopla always been this in-your-face? Or am I just particularly irritable this year?—Anita Break
A:Anita, you’re a dirty pinko Communist and if you don’t like the electoral process you should go back to Bulgaria or whatever country you came from.
Actually, Ace is right there with you on the ballot burnout. The coverage of this race has been inescapable since the Iowa caucuses in late January. And expect the intensity to increase locally even after the Virginia primary on Tuesday, February 10, as more politicians drop out of the race.
Is there something different this year to make the whole process more grating? Yes and no. No because it’s been a while since we had a Democratic primary in Virginia—1988, in fact—and all of us have probably forgotten how tiresome the politicking can get. And yes because, as local Democratic Party chair Lloyd Snook says, “It shouldn’t have even started yet.”
Snook explains that, if you go back about 20 yeiars, you’ll see that the first Democratic primary in the country—which is pretty much guaranteed to be New Hampshire due to party rules—didn’t take place until the first week of March, with nearly a month until the next one. But following some ’70s electoral reforms, primaries have become more and more common in states (replacing nominating conventions and caucuses)—and they’ve been coming earlier and earlier.
Snook says that’s in part because some brainiac realized that when politicians are jockeying for positions in a primary, they and their entourages come into states and spend beaucoup bucks on tourism, and even more on radio, TV and print ads. Add another notch to Ace’s political cynic belt, please.
The early primaries could have a negative effect on politics in general, Snook says, beyond leaving voters in stumping shock. Since the actual nomination dates haven’t changed—the Dems’ big convention will be July 26-29 in Boston—that leaves a big gap between the primaries and the official designation. And with campaign finance reforms passed a few years ago restricting spending amounts before the nomination and after, that can mean several months with little activity from political camps.
“That’s frustrating,” Snook says. “There could be a five-month dead time during which we know who the nominee is, but it’s not time to get the battle on. If I were trying to design a more rational system, there’s no reason we can’t have these primaries later.”
Folks like you, Anita, would probably agree. But Donna Goings, local volunteer for the beleaguered Howard Dean campaign, is all for a good, long fight. She and her fellow Deaniacs started actively campaigning just after Christmas, and she thinks it’s very healthy for the country.
“I think the public, who would rather watch something about Janet Jackson on TV, is probably tired of it. Most people are not political junkies and it’s getting old for them,” she says. “As time goes on it’ll only keep getting attention, and that can only be a good thing.”
Wait, I’m sorry—what was that part about Janet Jackson?