It’s easy to complain about the outsize influence of the early primary states. Iowa’s consistent first in the nation caucus means that Presidential contenders will try to get the endorsement of Steve King, and results in greater support for wasteful farm subsidies like Corn Ethanol. An anti-urban bias in government spending may be exaggerated by the emphasis on states lacking major metropolitan centers during the presidential primaries. It’s probably not a coincidence that the 2012 Presidential election is probably going to be between two men who held statewide office in the states with the major metropolitan areas near the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Early primaries are useful as an opportunity for lesser-known presidential contenders to compete with candidates who have better national name recognition. So there should be some way to allow the candidates to compete on a state by state basis. It just doesn’t have to always be the same two states.
In defense to Iowa and New Hampshire, the electorates of these two states have demonstrated a degree of independence, with split delegations in the US senate. 2000 and 2004 were close elections, but while voters in most states stayed with the same political party, Iowa and New Hampshire were among the three states that changed allegiance. Of course, the level of attention paid to these two states by members of both political parties might be a factor in that.
I like the idea of having the early primaries be in bellwether states, as that allows both political parties the opportunity to nominate strong General-Election candidates. So, why not have the first primaries be in states that are the true bellwethers? It could start with the state that matched the popular vote of the entire nation most closely in the previous presidential cycle.
In 2008, that state was Virginia, which President Obama won by 6.3%, which was fairly close to his 7.2% margin of victory over McCain in the popular vote. In 2004, that state was Ohio, which President Bush won by 2.11%, which was close to his 2.4% margin of victory over Kerry in the popular vote. In 2000, that state was Oregon, which Gore won by 0.44%, which was close to his 0.5% “win” over President Bush in the popular vote.
The second state in the presidential primary cycle could be the state that was second-closest to the General Election results, in a way that slightly benefited the political party under-represented by the bellwether state. Since Virginia’s results actually favored the Republicans by one percent, it would be fair for the next state in a presidential primary to be one that was slightly more favorable for the Democratic party than the national popular vote. So that would be Colorado, which President Obama won by 8.95%. If a third party candidate did well, the process would continue with a third state which closely matched the General Election results in a way that gave a slight advantage to the political party which under-performed slightly in the first two states.
As Iowa and New Hampshire are close to bellwethers, the states might sometimes become the first primaries in the nation. And that’s completely fine. But it gives other states and their constituencies a shot. And it means that you’ll have less politicians about how a vote will affect their standing with New Hampshire primary voters a decade later.