Moving on up

Gov. Mark Warner signed legislation this week moving up the date for the Virginia Democratic presidential primary to Feb. 10, 2004. This puts Virginia ahead of many other states hoping to have a say in the nomination of a Democratic presidential candidate. So far, only New Hampshire, Iowa, and a few other states have an earlier primary date.

Warner and the General Assembly pushed for an earlier date so the Old Dominion can have more of a say in the nomination process. In the modern age of presidential politics, a party’s nominee is often selected before the first dogwood bloom of early March, leaving several states with meaningless primary elections. This is followed by a meaningless national convention which has been reduced to an extravagant political infomercial.

The reason for moving the Democratic primary to an earlier date is simple national attention. Warner and state Democrats want the 12th largest state to be a primary battleground among the large field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Candidates must secure enough delegates to win the nomination, which means John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the entire field will be forced to visit Virginia and talk about Virginia issues.

The situation was similar for the Republicans in 2000 when a February primary was staged in the Old Dominion. Front-runner George W. Bush, coming off upset losses to John McCain in New Hampshire and Michigan, won the Virginia primary in convincing fashion and never looked back. All the networks and cable news channels focused on Virginia for a short moment in time.

The act of moving up the primary makes Virginia part of a national trend as states vie for attention in the presidential sweepstakes. Washington, D.C. is trying to move its primary up to Jan. 3, 2004.

There was once a time when presidential nominations weren’t decided until the third day of the national convention or at least after the California primary which traditionally fell in June. Now, with campaigns costing millions of dollars, it’s all about striking early and wrapping up the nomination before the snow melts. This leaves a lull which lasts through Labor Day. Gone are the days of the smoke-filled rooms, fist fights on the convention floor and police tear gassing protesters in the streets outside the convention hall. Well, two out of three, at least. This was an often ugly, yet decisive, way of settling things.

As more states move up their primary dates, the more chaotic the process becomes. Before we know it, the 2008 presidential primaries will take place in 2007 just so some states can gain the spotlight early in the process.

One solution is to use the lottery system for choosing presidential primary dates. Let each state have a coinciding ping pong ball in a lottery drawing similar to the method used in the NBA draft. It would be the 50 states, D.C. and the L.A. Clippers vying for the early primary dates.

The progression of primary date shuffling may ultimately culminate in one single U.S. primary for each party replacing the need for state primaries and national conventions.

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