Video: Primary calendar madness

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 10/17/2007 3:54:41 PM ET 2007-10-17T19:54:41

Enough! Whatever it takes, would the two major parties and its state affiliates please do something to take control of this presidential primary process?

The end of the calendar year is rapidly approaching, and yet no one knows when the first presidential primary is going to be held.

Imagine if Major League Baseball waited until after Game 1 to decide if the World Series would be a best of seven or a best of nine contest. What if the NFL kept the location of the Super Bowl a secret until just before kickoff?

And that’s just sports; something that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things anyway. In fact, I can't believe I'm saying this, but the presidential nominating process has become so ridiculous and convoluted that it makes college football’s “Bowl Championship Series” seem orderly.

Iowa and New Hampshire, along with the Republican and Democratic parties, are turning the primary process into a national joke. This is supposed to be the process that helps determine the next leader of the free world. Is it too much to ask for two parties and 50 states come up with something that doesn't disenfranchise voters? 

New Hampshire: Scheduling shenanigans?

IMAGE: N.H. Secretary of State William Gardner
Jim Cole  /  AP
By the time New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner schedules the state's presidential primary, presidential hopefuls will have campaigned in the state for many months and, in some cases, two or more years.

Believe it or not, there is one state that’s asking candidates to file for a primary that hasn’t even been given a calendar date. Right now, candidates are being asked to commit in New Hampshire even though the state has yet to announce when the primary will be held. Now, I'm someone who is consumed by this process and who loves the gamesmanship, but this is beyond ridiculous.

What New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is doing to the entire presidential field would be comical if the consequences weren’t so serious.

But it's not just Gardner.  A handful of states and powerless political party operatives are holding the next president of the United States hostage. Should these candidates campaign in Iowa or in New Hampshire? What about Michigan or Florida? With less than 75 days left in the calendar year, many of these contenders are not sure where they should be spending their time. Rate candidates' positions

And this stuff has serious ramifications. Let’s say the Iowa Democratic Party decides to stick with mid-January as a caucus date, allowing New Hampshire to go first. That could be the deciding factor between Hillary Clinton having a tough first run in Iowa, or skating through New Hampshire.

Or it’s the difference between the two parties being able to reach out to unaffiliated voters and build their base for the general election, which having caucuses on separate dates would do nothing to lure casual voters. Is that a good thing? Strategically, it may be for one candidate versus another, but does it enfranchise voters?

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Primary dates: Little breathing room
Right now, it's possible that there will be separate Republican and Democratic calendars for the nomination with New Hampshire possibly going in December. But that would mean that Granite State contest wouldn’t count at all on the Democratic side.

So, the New Hampshire Democratic Party would have to come up with another way to select delegates. And if that's the case, then you'd have separate dates for the Iowa caucuses (Republican: Jan. 3; Democratic: Jan. 14), the New Hampshire primary (Republican: Dec.; Democratic: unknown), the South Carolina primary (Republican: Jan. 19; Democratic: Jan. 26), the Florida primary (Republican: Jan. 29; Democratic: pending lawsuit), and the Michigan primary (Republican: Jan. 15; Democratic: who knows). Then there’s Feb. 5, or Tsunami Tuesday, the first day states can hold a primary or a caucus, getting their full slate of convention delegates. On the Democratic side, will there be just 22 days between the Iowa caucuses and Tsunami Tuesday? At least the Iowa Republicans are creating a little political pad in January by stretching things out between the GOP caucuses and Tsunami Tuesday.

I'm sorry for writing that last paragraph, it's confusing and yet there's no better way to explain it. How did it get to this? Whole books could be written in an attempt to answer that question. In the meantime, why won't the candidates get together and yell, “stop!”

They've invested millions of dollars into the economies of Iowa and New Hampshire and these two states ought to respect that. They should set the dates accordingly and work together. But Iowa and New Hampshire, along with its political parties, can't seem to agree on much. And that leads to other states adopting this “cowboy” attitude.

Party committees seek control
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Democratic National Committee did try to bring sanity to the process. They sanctioned just four states, but without the ultimate cooperation of New Hampshire’s secretary of states and the Republican National Committee, they just couldn’t control the calendar the way they had hoped.

The RNC took the free-market approach, implementing the standard penalty for going before Feb. 5: getting half the delegates. But it didn’t stop some major states from jumping the gun.

Every four years the craziness of this process is analyzed and criticized, and yet nothing is done. We're all to blame. The parties, the candidates and the media are all at fault. The only folks not responsible? The voters. In fact, they are the victims, and apparently last folks anybody seems to be worrying about.

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