Primaries, which used to gradually unfold across the nation, have become too front loaded, making the conventions into "coronation ceremonies".
To his credit, Stephen Frank discusses this problem.
The old and now nearly gone Southern Democrats created "Super Tuesday" in the hope of restoring some conservatism into their party (no such luck). Then California chose to move it’s primary from June to February, followed by other states moving their primaries forward as well. Now the whole process is ridiculously front loaded.
What to do? Two different ideas:
(1) A "national primary day". I would set such a day on the First Tuesday in June of the election year. The incumbent president’s party convention could follow in the month of July, the challenger’s party convention in the month of August, debates and campaigning all through September and October.
In such a system, the party conventions would start to REALLY matter, and not just be "coronation ceremonies" for the wanna-be king. Deals would have to be brokered, losing candidates offered Veep or Cabinet slots, etc. There might be real fights over the party platforms. It would at least be interesting.
(2) I also have an alternative "Modest Proposal", which would alas probably require a constitutional amendment to make it so, alas. My idea is that 2 states per week, over a 26 week process from January to June, would hold their primaries (or perhaps caucuses should the state choose that method instead; maybe this can be debated here). As in the first option, the incumbent president’s party convention could follow in the month of July, the challenger’s party convention in the month of August, debates and campaigning all through September and October.
How to determine which state holds its primary election when? Simple: By the order in which the states were admitted into the Union.
This method would make the whole process interesting, in terms of strategy and tactics. Would a candidate try to be in every state, or would he concentrate on only certain states and regions? As the field of candidates narrows, to whom would the failed candidates throw their support, and how much would it help? Now THAT is real excitement for the political junkies.
This method would make Pennsylvania the first important primary to watch, as it is a fairly sizeable state and second into the Union. This method would give the NH people hissy fits, but tough. We need some method to determine who goes first and who follows, and order of admission into the Union is the best concrete and constitutional method I can think of.
This method would mean a gradual unfolding from East to West more or less, alternating between northern and southern states at first, then going to the West Coast, then back to the Rockies and the Prairies. AK and HI last. Well, actually the PR, GU, VI, and Samoa territories would be last, (26th week) since non-state territories can vote for President, but you get the idea.
Other rules I would put in place:
— delegates would be won proportionately in the primary elections for each party, not "winner take all". This would give the race some ferment, and make the party conventions at the end have some real political horse trading and not just be coronation ceremonies.
— CLOSED PRIMARIES ONLY. "Open Primaries" are gateways to political chicanery, with sabotage voters from one party going to urinate in the other party’s voting pool. Anyone who knows the story of what happened in the Louisiana governor’s race a decade and a half ago, of the crooked Evan Edwards using David Duke to annilhate Buddy Roemer (sp?) will understand what I am talking about here. In large part, McCain’s campaign in 2000 relied on the "political urination" factor in SC and other open primary states, one reason why I lost respect for McCain.
— Should caucuses be allowed, or primaries be mandatory? I’m not sure, but I am inclined to go toward the latter. Caucuses are not who actually votes in a state so much as they are who busses in their political operatives.
Let me know what you think.