"If states had not moved up or “frontloaded” the date of their primaries and caucuses, under the misimpression that doing so would give them a greater voice in the 2008 nomination, Clinton might be the Democratic nominee."So now it was the calendar that knocked Clinton out in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination race? State governments and state parties were deciding where to position their primaries and caucuses for 2008 during the time between March of 2005, when Arkansas became the first state to move and December of 2007, when Michigan's unsanctioned move was given the green light by the courts (over the access to voter information from the contests). Was it really a "misimpression" that 2008 would be like 2004 or 2000 or 1996 (etc.)? If 2008 had been like 2004, those states would have made "wise" decisions. They may have been lost in the shuffle among other, bigger states, but they at least would have held their contests on or before the time at which the nominee emerged. That had been the mark of most of the frontloaded system's races prior to 2008. Sure, in retrospect, those frontloading decisions may have been off the mark, but expecting states to have foreseen that is about as realistic as expecting pundits and experts to have predicted the race that just completed.
--Michael P. McDonald, The Brookings Institution/Professor of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University
For the record, sequence did matter in 2008. But sequence has always played a role in these things. Florida's position in 1976 helped Jimmy Carter eliminate George Wallace. In 1988 the Souther Super Tuesday pushed George H.W. Bush out in front of the pack of Republicans. 1992 saw Georgia's position just after New Hampshire assist Bill Clinton in the comeback that began in the Granite state.
Sequence matters and it did in 2008 as well. That's just part of the nomination process, but it isn't the only factor. Obama's organizational prowess in the caucus states and micro-targeting of districts in state's where he did not win built the delegate advantages that he carried into the final weeks of primary season. The Clinton camp's inability to quickly devise a plan B after their Super Tuesday or bust strategy failed was the real cause of her downfall. The calendar was the same for everyone and was a known quantity (with the exception of Michigan) from early fall 2007 until Iowan kicked things off on January 3. Obama planned ahead; Clinton didn't. That is the story.
Look, I'm a staunch believer in the rules playing a decisive role in politics. Rules and rules changes form the basis of my academic pursuits and this particular set of rules (those applying to the scheduling and sequencing of presidential nominating contests) are the root of the dissertation I'm currently writing. I'm also something of a defender of/realist about the current system. Is it ideal? No. But it will be extremely difficult to get the national and state parties, Democrats and Republicans, and national and state governments on the same page to make a significant change. There are simply too many competing (not to mention, contradictory) interests involved. So now that primary season is over, it apparently is open season for frontloading bashing. The reexamination of the current system is a discussion that needs to be had, but a dose of reality is an important component of that discussion. Reform may be nice, but will be tough to come by. Rotating regional primaries may be nice, but a national primary, or something close to it, will be what we end up with.
Thanks to the good folks at Ballot Box (via The Election Law Blog) for the link.
Related: Michigan: What Would Have Happened? (from Fivethirtyeight.com)
Change is Gonna Come: How Did Obama's/Clinton's Fortunes Fare During Primary Season?
The Electoral College Maps (6/3/08)
The Big Montana