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Democracy Lost: the Iowa Caucus, the New Hampshire Primary, and the Shortchanging of American Presidential Politics

By       Message Rob Richie     Permalink
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Democrats in 2008: Biden , Dodd, and Richardson

The 2012 battle for the Republican nomination appears to be following the same trend:  Iowa and New Hampshire tell the nation who's hot and who's not, leading to an abbreviated primary schedule in which the majority of states are irrelevant. With Mitt Romney having bested Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in Iowa and leading in New Hampshire, many observers believe Romney--despite tepid support nationally among Republican voters--could be the de facto nominee by February.

NBC news analysts after their Sunday debate argued that wins for Romney in New Hampshire and South Carolina would end the contest, despite a dissatisfied Republican electorate as reflected in the remarkable swings we have seen in polls and illustrated by the seemingly endless parade of anti-Romneys over the last few months. "So it has come to this," POLITICO's Roger Simon opined in an article titled Hello, Goodbye, "Seven days since [voting for the GOP nomination] began, [and] it is essentially over."

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Republicans in 2012: Bachmann, Huntsman, and Pawlenty

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Already, Michele Bachmann has dropped out after her poor finish in the January 3 caucus, while Rick Perry's campaign--though it marches on, for now--is apparently on life support. Meanwhile, Jon Huntsman, who has staked everything on New Hampshire, will likely withdraw absent a top two result. Tim Pawlenty, once considered a leading alternative to Romney, exited the stage in August after a third-place result in the Iowa straw poll.

Whatever one may think of these aforementioned candidacies, in a democratic system, so few individuals should not have the authority to foreclose choices before an entire nation. After all, candidates handed a certificate of defeat by the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire were not running for each state's respective governorship; they were striving to become president of the United States. When dealing with national offices, should not all Americans have the right to weigh in?

A far better way to structure nominations would be the American Plan, a significant reform to our nation's primary process that preserves the tradition of having a staggered primary calendar--thereby maintaining the benefits of not having every state contest on a super "primary day," which unfairly advantages candidates with money and name recognition--but employs a graduated system, with clear breaks that increase the likelihood that other voters will cast meaningful votes. Iowa and New Hampshire have had decades in the spotlight; it is time for other states to have their moment too.

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