Primary Politics

Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Primary Politics
    Book Description:

    The 2008 presidential primaries produced more drama than many general election campaigns. John McCain overcame the near-implosion of his campaign to capture the Republican nomination by March, despite a strong challenge from quotable pastor-turned-governor Mike Huckabee. Hillary Clinton entered the Democratic race as the heavy favorite, only to fall to a first-term senator from Illinois in a battle that lasted into July. Democratic delegations from Florida and Michigan were unseated and reseated; superdelegates took to the airwaves; and millions of Americans heard of the "robot rule" for the first time.

    InPrimary Politics, political insider Elaine Kamarck explains how the presidential nomination process became the often baffling system we have today. Her focus is the largely untold story of how presidential candidates since the early 1970s have sought to alter the rules in their favor and how their failures and successes have led to even more change. She describes how candidates have sought to manipulate the sequencing of primaries to their advantage and how Iowa and New Hampshire came to dominate the system. She analyzes the rules that are used to translate votes into delegates, paying special attention to the Democrats' twenty-year fight over proportional representation. Kamarck illustrates how candidates have used the resulting delegate counts to create momentum, and she discusses the significance of the modern nominating convention. Drawing on meticulous research, interviews with key figures in both parties, and years of experience, this book explores one of the most important questions in American politics -how we narrow the list of presidential candidates every four years.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0380-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-5)

    Senator Hillary Clinton walked into the small conference room at the Park Phoenix Hotel on Capitol Hill wearing one of her signature pantsuits, this one navy blue silk with white piping. It was May 22, 2008, and she was in the home stretch of what had been a very long race for the Democratic nomination for president. Along the way her once-surefire quest had run into a phenomenon, a first-term senator from Illinois, half-white, half-African, named Barack Obama. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, famously called “the first black president” by the author Toni Morrison, had watched the black community...

  5. 1 THE GOOD OLD DAYS? When Parties Controlled Nominations and Primaries Were to Be Avoided at All Costs
    (pp. 6-26)

    Imagine for a moment that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy were among us once again. Then imagine that they found themselves in the middle of a presidential campaign. Despite all the new technologies now in use, especially the Internet, the campaign strategy for the general election campaign would look quite familiar to them. The goal would be to win the majority of electoral votes. States would be categorized as safe for one party or the other, hopeless for one party or the other, and battleground. Candidates would move around the country giving speeches and holding...

  6. 2 SEQUENCE AS STRATEGY How Jimmy Carter “Got It” and Taught Subsequent Presidential Candidates the New Rules of the Road
    (pp. 27-50)

    Of all the people who wanted to become president in 1976 it was Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic governor from Georgia, unknown on the national stage, who best understood the new nomination system. As the first post-reform Democratic candidate to make it all the way to the White House, Carter’s impact on the shape and structure of the modern nomination system cannot be overstated. His two campaigns for the Democratic nomination taught subsequent generations of candidates the new rules of the road. The most important of these was: sequence mattered. From then on, presidential candidates of national standing would attempt...

  7. 3 THE FIGHT TO BE FIRST Why Iowa and New Hampshire Dominate Presidential Nominating Politics
    (pp. 51-80)

    By 1976 the transformation of the nomination system, from one dominated by party elites to one dominated by primary voters, was largely complete. In this new system, sequence dictated outcomes and primary voters replaced party leaders as the most important players. To be first was to have a hefty impact on the whole system and to inspire the envy of other less fortunate states. Thus as the modern nomination system entered its second decade, the proper role of the early contests in the nomination system emerged as a leading source of controversy, replacing earlier battles over representation and affirmative action....

  8. 4 PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION Why Democrats Use It and Republicans Don’t
    (pp. 81-118)

    In the modern nominating system, sequence is strategy, with Iowa and New Hampshire dictating who moves on and who doesn’t. For the vast majority of presidential candidates in the post-reform era, one or both of these two states have spelled the end of the road. But the tendency to frontload the modern nominating system means that for those few candidates who make it past the first hurdle, the measure of success changes quickly. Instead of concentrating on who is winning states, candidates (and the press) soon shift their focus to who is winning delegates.

    This business of counting delegates often...

  9. 5 DEVIL IN THE DETAILS How the Delegate Count Shapes Modern Nominating Campaigns
    (pp. 119-146)

    On the morning of March 5, 2008, newspapers all over the United States ran some version of the following headline: “John McCain Clinches GOP Nomination.” The night before, he had won four critical contests and four critical sets of delegates. In Ohio he won 100 percent of the delegates by winning 60 percent of the primary vote to 30 percent for Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who was his closest remaining rival. In Vermont he won 100 percent of the 17 delegates, in Texas he won 99 out of 137 delegates, and in Rhode Island he won 13 out...

  10. 6 DO CONVENTIONS MATTER ANYMORE? Superdelegates, the Robot Rule, and the Modern Nominating Convention
    (pp. 147-173)

    It happens like clockwork. Every four years in the weeks before the Democratic and Republican conventions the press announces that it will cover an even smaller portion of the convention proceedings than it did four years earlier. The political parties complain. The press responds that the primetime segment is just a show, that the convention is too choreographed, that there is no news. The pundits wonder if the nominating convention is dead. Increasingly the public wonders why we even have conventions in the first place.

    This was not always the case. Conventions used to be where all the behind-the-scenes machinations...

    (pp. 174-186)

    There are many proposed alternatives to the modern nominating system as it has evolved. All of them are more rational and orderly than the hodgepodge of systems that voters experience today. The most popular alternative among party leaders and elected officials is some variation on the theme of the regional primary. In contrast to voters, most of whom favor a national primary, politicians tend to value the sequential nature of the nomination process but seek to make the system more fair.

    The preeminent reform plan is the Regional Presidential Primaries Plan. This proposal, which was adopted by the National Association...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-206)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 207-216)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)