Thursday, November 29, 2007

Massachusetts should have waited on the primary

As expected, Governor Deval Patrick earlier this week signed the bill moving our presidential primary from the first Tuesday in March to February 5. February 5 is the date that many other large states--including New York, California, Florida--are holding their primaries. Many observers expect that the primaries will essentially be over after the fifth.

That was the idea behind Massachusetts moving up; state leaders were afraid that the nominees would have already been chosen by the time came for us to vote, and by moving to February, Massachusetts would have more of a say in the primary process.

I think moving the primary up was a mistake. I don't believe the commonwealth will have more power in the nominating process and I don't think candidates will spend any more money or time in the state in an effort to woo voters.

We already get as much coverage, commercials, and information about the candidates as anyone else in the country, seeing as the Boston media is the largest player in New Hampshire. Most candidates have already started blanketing the Boston stations with their ads, the city's news organizations devote significant resources to the New Hampshire primary, and candidates heading to the Granite State frequently stop in Boston to tap into the coffers of wealthy Democrats. None of that will change with a February election. And with other delegate-rich states up for grabs on the same day, I would expect candidates to concentrate their efforts in areas where the voters haven't already been engaged.

However, if the nominations weren't wrapped up on February 5, those states who hold later primaries will be in the position of king-maker. Let's say that on February 5, Hillary Clinton wins the east and west coasts, Barack Obama ekes out victories in the Midwest, and John Edwards pulls out a state or two in the South. Suddenly, instead of having a clear-cut nominee, you have two strong candidates that still need a few hundred delegates to go over the top. (The same thing could happen on the Republican side, too).

By holding on to their March date, the commonwealth could have set themselves up to be the most important constituency of the nominating process. Sure, the risk is that our votes would mean nothing, but it seems to me that in this, of all election cycles, the risk would be worth the potential reward.

Instead, we follow along with everyone else, and ensure that our influence will be diluted.

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