Note, too, that one big name is conspicuously absent from Scala’s list of candidates running quintessential New Hampshire campaigns. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and current Republican presidential hopeful, has seemed deeply conflicted about how to approach New Hampshire (and Iowa, too). Some weeks, he campaigns like he actually wants to win those states, whereas other weeks he seems to be utilizing a Super Tuesday strategy — neglecting Iowa and New Hampshire and gambling that his national celebrity will help him clean up on February 5, when nearly half of the GOP’s approximately 2500 delegates will be chosen — a potentially massive boost for Giuliani, regardless of how he fares in the early going.
The case for New Hampshire has always been twofold: campaigning is fundamentally different here, and candidates have to make a good-faith effort in the state. Obama and Clinton are already shaking up the first proposition. Giuliani’s Super Tuesday strategy is jeopardizing the second. And the argument for New Hampshire is starting to look a whole lot weaker.
None of this would matter if the Democrats’ small-scale tinkering after 2004 was the last word on the subject. But that’s exceedingly unlikely. Nearly everyone — Democrats, Republicans, New Hampshire and Iowa traditionalists, insurgents from Michigan and Florida and elsewhere — has agreed, for quite a while, that the presidential-nomination process starts too early and takes too long. But the DNC’s recent tweaks didn’t solve that problem; instead, they triggered a rush to the front in both parties. This, in turn, led New Hampshire and Iowa to hold off on scheduling their elections until the last possible minute — and to push their dates as close to the start of the year as possible, thus making the problem even worse.
Both the national Democratic and Republican parties have tried to maintain a semblance of order by sanctioning states that don’t play by the rules, but with limited effect: as Slate’s Timothy Noah recently noted, the loss of delegates pales next to a chance to influence the nominating process while the outcome is still in doubt. Add it all up, and, if nothing changes for the 2012 campaign, the nation as a whole can look forward to a protracted, exhausting, expensive, buyer’s-remorse-laden general-election season — with more insurrections, more frontloading, and more election fatigue.
As a result, we’re likely to see the same sort of push for change after ’08 that we did after ’04, something even Splaine readily acknowledges. “I think there’s going to be a lot of necessary reform to the system well before 2012,” he allows.
The question is, what shape might that reform take? Here’s one possibility: allow New Hampshire and Iowa to go first yet again, but delay their elections until March. Then follow up with a series of rotating regional primaries, with different areas of the country going first in different years. Not surprisingly, this framework is favored by longtime New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner, who’s spent his career guarding the Granite State’s privileged role and also happens to chair the National Associations of Secretaries of State, which could take the lead in implementing such a change. (If our 44th president, whomever he or she is, gets that job thanks in part to wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, they might back such a proposal, as well.)