States begin to jockey for 2012 primary dates

Flashback to some of the wackiness of the 2008 election cycle when states hemmed and hawed over their position in the primary schedule and we’re basically back there again. This time Iowa and New Hampshire are threatening to move their caucus and primary dates if any other states dare to encroach on their “first in the nation” status.

Report from New York Times:

Officials in both Iowa and New Hampshire are talking once again about moving their contests earlier in 2012 as a way of ensuring that they will remain the first caucus or primary of the next presidential campaign.

As reported by the veteran political reporter John Distaso on Christmas Eve, New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, has warned that the Republican primary may have to be moved up because the proposed Feb. 14 date would land only four days before Nevada’s Feb. 18 caucus — a violation of New Hampshire laws that require the primary to take place a week before a “similar election” is held elsewhere. (Except Iowa, of course.)

If New Hampshire moves, that could force Iowa — which has similar rules about putting some distance before another state’s voting — into January. That would break a gentleman’s agreement between the two parties to try to keep the official start of the 2012 voting in February, where it was for decades — before that, voting didn’t begin in Iowa and New Hampshire until March.

Welcome to the game of musical chairs that is the primary calendar.

If we recall back to January of 2008, the Iowa Caucus was held on January 3rd and New Hampshire’s Primary was on January 8th. Not much time to actually campaign after Christmas and New Year’s for the candidates. Not to mention who on earth wants to continue working the election circuit straight through the holidays.

Both parties were hoping to avoid these types of early date changes in upcoming cycles but it appears they still have some work to do.

Both parties have vowed to try to avoid a repeat of that in 2012. The Democratic Party voted last summer to propose the Feb. 14 date for the New Hampshire primary. The Republican Party didn’t pick a date, but endorsed the idea of voting beginning in February, with the idea that New Hampshire would end up somewhere in the middle of the month.

The problem, however, is that the political parties don’t actually control the calendar – the states do. And in New Hampshire and Iowa, state officials are more interested in being first than they are in being agreeable with the parties.

Personally I think the current primary system is somewhat flawed. You have a handful of states which get attention and after South Carolina, most of the candidates are out and the nominees have nearly been chosen. If you’re sitting in later primary states like New York or Virginia, forget the chance to vote for an entire field of candidates. You’ll be lucky to have 2 or 3.

I’d propose perhaps 4 regional primaries nationwide held in 4 consecutive weeks or something similar. There is also the idea of a single national primary day where all states vote at once. I don’t think either of these will ever happen but I think most would agree, except New Hampshire and Iowa election officials, that the current system leaves some room for improvement.

Cross-posted from 2012 Election Central.