Thursday, April 20, 2006

Time to bid New Hampshire and Iowa aloha

In 1988 Al Gore, four years into his first term as Tennessee's U.S. Senator, ran for president. To a pundit all assumed that Gore's prospects at capturing the democratic nomination fell somewhere between none and no flipping way. But that didn't stop the candidate and his woefully unseasoned political team (including yours truly) from believing that we would prove the pundits wrong.
The strategy was simple - endure the frigid political climates of New Hampshire and Iowa, rank high in some of the southern state primaries that followed, and reap the benefits of a strong southern slingshot showing into the Midwest states and beyond.
The strategy - while it looked good on paper - never panned out and by April 1988 we were heading back to the Hill, Gore to celebrate his 40th birthday and all of us to return full-time to our Senatorial duties.
Within days of Gore's pullout, our entire campaign effort was relegated to the status of a single footnote in the back pages of presidential campaign history.
That is, all but one episode.
On the day of the Iowa caucuses during the '88 nomination run, Gore and his core political team convinced a sizeable contingency of national media to abandon coverage of the Iowa meetings and join us on a campaign swing through the sunny South. While Iowans, candidates and media endured near zero temperatures and blistering snowstorms to gather in and around caucus meetings across their state, our candidate jogged in shorts and a t-shirt on a Florida beach in front of our media contingency who themselves got into the spirit of the southern swing by decking out in short sleeve shirts and sneakers.
As expected, Gore got clobbered in Iowa, but his actions raised a question that today still remains unanswered - why do we insist on forcing candidates, media and voters to conduct their winter presidential campaign business in states that have some of the worst winter weather in the nation?
This week a group of Democratic leaders have been gathered in New Orleans pleading on behalf of 11 states and the District of Columbia for greater relevance in the democratic nomination process. The reported common theme in all pitches to members of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has been that states with greater racial, ethnic and economic diversity deserve equal or higher standing in the nominee selection process than New Hampshire or Iowa.
Almost overlooked in all the debate has been the plea of delegates from the state of Hawaii - who have once again raised that unanswered question of 1988 - why doesn't the party conduct its winter business in sunnier, warmer climates?
Reports are that the Hawaiians made the case that warmer weather would have a positive effect on all of the democratic candidates' outlook. You can take that point even further by making the asumption that candidates who campaign in more pleasant weather are likely to be more civil to one another.
At the end of the day, while I would love to see change, I am not yet convinced that the party will abandon its tired old traditions of making its candidates battle for survival on the frozen tundras of Iowa and New Hampshire as Gore did in 1988. But I for one am certainly warming up to the idea of an early winter Hawaiian primary.
Pupule baby!

8 Comments:

Blogger Sean Braisted said...

The whole format seems counterintuitive. Why have the basis for the nomination of a national candidate be his ability to win on the local level? Super regional primaries would be a better way to show wether or not a candidate can appeal to a broad group of people over a large area using the tools available to them in the national campaign. Kerry might have been great campaigning in Iowa, but his efforts accross the country were flat, if not out of touch. Consequently, Dean appealed to a large group of people nationwide, yet collapsed in Iowa.

Also, removing Iowa caucuses will help us get rid of the pointless corn subsidies that should have no place in a free market.

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