Argument: The primary process reduces debate leading up to national conventions

Issue Report: Primaries in US elections

Supporting Evidence

January 3, 2008 “The need for a radical reordering goes far beyond the challenges that arose when Iowans struggled to match blue Obama yard signs with green Christmas lights. In a country where the media and political classes far prefer a presidential horse race to the slog of governing, the theater of a front-loaded nominating process is so irresistible that ambitious legislators and journalists exit Washington for Iowa faster than you can say “unfinished business.” Obama skipped a key vote on Iran–and then condemned Clinton for showing up and voting with the Bush Administration. Clinton, Obama, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and John McCain all missed the November vote on the Peru Free Trade Agreement, which set the agenda for future trade debates. This is not a new phenomenon, but “senatorial debilitation”–to borrow a phrase from former Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who once proposed a constitutional amendment to boot senators who spent too much time campaigning–is now so thorough that even revelations of presidential lawlessness (for instance, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s allegation that Bush was in on the plot to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson) aren’t enough to draw media attention away from kaffeeklatsches in New Hampshire. Just as governing suffers, so too does politics. “Concluding the nomination process in the winter for all intents and purposes leaves the parties’ nominees in waiting, and voters with a vacuum for many months, until the conventions in the late summer,” explains Wang. “That gap tends to induce the anointed candidates to focus on raising private money while the public’s attention subsides, reducing the amount of time that might be more productively devoted to debating the major issues.”