In the end, though, there wasn’t much of a shake-up at all. After Iowa and New Hampshire masterfully lobbied the party’s power brokers, and the DNC commission issued its modest recommendations, and would-be rivals such as Nevada and South Carolina were bought off with improved positions (caucuses on January 19 and primary on January 26, respectively) — the new nominating schedule for 2008 wasn’t all that different from the old one. Once again, Iowa went first, holding its caucuses on January 3. Once again, New Hampshire will go second, holding its primary this Tuesday, on January 8. And once again, the nomination will almost certainly be decided after the one-day bevy of elections known as Super Tuesday. This year, though, Super Tuesday will take place on February 5, nearly a month earlier than it did in 2004. And it’ll feature roughly twice as many states as it did last time around.
How, exactly, did two small states manage to fend off 48 potential rivals? Chalk it up to inertia, or fear of unintended consequences, or a genuine conviction that New Hampshire and Iowa work, or the fact that any new state(s) poised to bump off Iowa and New Hampshire would similarly incur the envy of their erstwhile allies. But also credit New Hampshire and Iowa for an almost pathological determination to take any steps necessary to maintain their privileged role. “This is their life,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “They’ll hold their contests right after July 4 the year before the election if they have to — they don’t care, as long as they’re first.”
The DNC’s changes didn’t satisfy Michigan and Florida, which subsequently flouted the new rules by scheduling unsanctioned primaries on January 15 and 29. In response, the DNC got tough, stripping both insurgents of their delegates to the 2008 nominating convention and extracting promises from the Democratic contenders that they wouldn’t campaign in the rogue states. (There’s speculation that the eventual nominee will push to seat those delegates, but no one knows for sure.) The message was clear: a little top-down tinkering around the edges was fine, but New Hampshire and Iowa were going to keep their privileged positions.
Small wonder, then, that some New Hampshire nabobs are feeling a tad cocky nowadays. I recently asked New Hampshire state representative Jim Splaine — author of the (in)famous law stating that New Hampshire’s primary has to occur at least a week before any other state’s — whether the attempted incursions by Michigan and Florida made him concerned about the future. “I’m not worried at all,” he replied, and he really didn’t sound it. “If New Hampshire was threatened, we would find a way to move a week or more ahead of any similar election. . . . We’ll be first in 2012, no matter what Michigan and Florida do.”
Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, strikes a similarly smug note. “It’s very clear the candidates prefer to be able to campaign in states of a manageable size, that are experienced in retail politics, that give every candidate a fair shake,” he says. “That’s what Iowa and New Hampshire have done for decades now. And I think that works very well.”