We've successfully completed the 2010 election cycle, and it seems that already we're ankle deep in the process for 2012. Before the tide comes in any higher, I'd like to offer an observation and a new way of looking at the Primaries.
I've been following politics for a long time -- deep into the last millennium. The quadrennial challenge of getting the nominations for the President have changed back and forth over the years, but I think that the changes wrought for the 2008 cycle were pretty well hammered up. The spectacle of states wanting to be first and setting primary dates as early as December 2007; the'penalizing' of Florida and the other states that went against the Democrat and Republican Party wishes; the stacking of primaries into 'Super Tuesday' all made the process about as neat as a soup sandwich. It also had the effect of leaving whole sections of the country out of the main debate and process of picking the winner.
I'd like to see that change, in a way that respects the recent upsurge in participation and spontaneity that the Tea Party brought to the process in 2010. From the experience this year, I think that some of the axioms of past campaigns -- that it takes years or months to raise enough money; that it takes years to build organizations; that we have to slog through a 2 year process to get the best candidates -- can be put to the test and tossed out.
Here's what I'd like to see:
1. No candidate can declare candidacy for the Presidency before July 4, 2011. That gives roughly 17 months until election day to wrap the whole process. None of this "announcing that I'm thinking of possibly examining the notion of forming an exploratory committee" stuff either...stay off the stage until the season starts. Do something of value to become noticed, instead of just talking about doing things.
2. On July 4, 2011, the heads of the Republican and Democrat Parties meet in DC and conduct a lottery to fill the slots for Presidential Primaries or Conventions or Caucuses, as defined by state laws. The lottery will distribute the 50 state selection/elections more or less equally across 12 Election Days, held on Tuesday, between the 3rd week in February (President's Day week) and mid May (4 to 5 states a week). By making these dates random, there is no advantage to having early front runners take up residence in the 'early primary states' (it didn't work for Chris Dodd anyhow) or making early, repeated trips to Iowa and New Hampshire which represent about 1% of the total population. Deciding the lottery in the summer of the previous year should be sufficient time for the states to prepare for the primaries 7-10 months later.
3. The party conventions are held in July and August, 2012 as traditionally done, and the campaign really gears up from Labor Day to the first Tuesday in November, 2012.
As for concerns about getting organizations and GOTV efforts built in time -- maybe we should build those organizations more along the lines of the Tea Party (around issues like limited government and no bailouts) rather than personalities. Maybe getting people to consider the issues and decide on the direction the country should be heading and then looking for the right person to execute that direction is a better way than selecting our leader based on an 8x10 glossy or teleprompter fed version of their thinking, only to find out they have either no plan for governing, or the wrong plan.
I really think that we have done damage to our government by looking for 'rock stars' and brilliant orators at the expense of intelligent, action oriented executive type people that we actually need to run things after the election is over. We're living through the 'rock star' era now, and it hasn't been pretty. It's time to try something else.