Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's Up with Michigan?

Today is the day for the Michigan primaries. This is the first presidential election in which the state has moved its primary date into January. The decision has yielded decidedly mixed results. While the GOP seems to be taking the new setup in stride, the Democratic party has resisted the move. In fact the Dem candidates for the presidency agreed not to campaign at all in the state. Of the three front runners, only Hillary Clinton has allowed her name to remain on the ballot. According to Democratic Party rules, only four states can hold their primaries before February 5th. In addition to the states that have already voted, only Nevada and South Carolina get this unique privilege.

While the Dems have shut the Michigan delegates completely out of the process, the Republicans have only withdrawn half of the state's representatives to their national convention. This is a mild punishment for a significant step toward primary anarchy. Apparently both parties will extend these consequences respectively to Florida- where party leaders also saw fit to vault themselves into national prominence. The growing controversy over timing for the primaries has become a bit of a media circus. Certainly Clinton has only exacerbated the issue by remaining in the contest. She was likely to win anyway if no one campaigned, so her continued presence is simple political expedience.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the race for the Democratic nomination remains close after February. Will Hillary Clinton insist that her Michigan victory counts? In fact it's a bit difficult to figure out just whose motivations are pure in this little debacle. Edwards and Obama can claim to have taken the high road, congratulating themselves for being loyal to the Democratic National Committee. But since they weren't going to sink money into a potential victory, they had little at stake in resting on principle. On the other hand, why should Clinton willingly give up the delegates she would have received from a sure victory?

The Republicans are now engaged in a heated three-way battle to reach the top of their diminishing heap of candidates. Mitt Romney has attained the penultimate position in both of the previous two state primaries, and he hopes to finally achieve a victory to build upon. The possibility exists that he will finish strong, since Michigan is his home state. Meanwhile John McCain believes that he can continue the momentum from his New Hampshire win if he can only pull out a victory in this beleaguered state. This would be a huge coup for McCain, whose campaign seemed to collapse under its own weight last year. There's still not much noise coming from the Giuliani camp, which is a bit surprising considering the widespread perception that he is an "electable" candidate.

I have to admit that I'm happy for the asterix that will be attached to today's electoral results. The entire concept of primaries bothers me because I don't believe in party politics- especially in a two-party system like we currently have. We have invested too much time, trust, energy, and money into what appears to be a fixed and closed establishment that demands fealty and conformity from anyone who desires a place in federal government. The arbitrary order of state primaries exposes the inherent inequity of the system. The more people disagree about the primary process, the more likely people are to find the entire structure illegitimate. I'd personally like to see primaries eliminated altogether. We need to find a more "fair and balanced" way to narrow the field of candidates.

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