Thursday, January 10, 2008

Super Tuesday. Then what?

Presidential primary elections have begun. And, by golly, they will soon be over.

By the end of next month, most of the primaries will be history — only 13 primary elections and caucuses will remain. In contrast, in 2004, 49 primaries and caucuses were scheduled after March 1.

It is likely that "Super Tuesday" — Feb. 5, when voters in 23 states, including New York, will go to the polls or caucuses — will effectively determine the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The pace of this year's presidential primary season is dizzying. Why are we in such a hurry? All right, maybe everyone is as anxious as I am for a new administration in Washington. Look at the president's approval ratings. But that isn't really what shifted the primary process into turbo-drive. The Democratic National Committee in 2006 allowed the change to give minority voters a voice early in the process, since the two traditionally early contests — in New Hampshire and Iowa — took place in very white states. A laudable goal, no doubt. But states rushed to push up their primaries so as not to become "irrelevant." Only 15 states didn't move up their primary dates.

The result of this compression: the campaign may well be over on Feb. 5.

Then what? What will the candidates do until the conventions (Aug. 25-28 for the Dems and Sept. 1-4 for the GOP)? What will we, the voters, do? After a smattering of contests in March and May, there's one primary on June 3, in South Dakota. These will be all but meaningless in the scheme of things, as far as Democrats and Republicans are concerned. Then... there's no activity until the end of August.

Will notoriously apathetic Americans completely lose interest during a long, lazy summer — especially after being burned out by the longest pre-primary campaign in history. "Voter fatigue" is a new buzz-phrase thanks to the 2008 presidential race — which started in 2006.

Will the anointed candidates lose momentum over the summer? Will one of the two "major party" nominees make a terrible blunder? And what if he — or she — does? Can delegates pledged to a candidate bolt from his or her camp? These possibilities could make for much drama at the conventions — something we haven't seen in decades.

Maybe the Democratic and Republican parties, by front-loading the primary elections this way, have unwittingly set the stage for an independent candidate to capture the hearts and minds of Americans who are sick and tired of the status quo in Washington and who don't see any of the "major party" candidates as anything but more of the same, more or less. Tuesday's "record high" turnouts in New Hampshire — more than 500,000 people — topped 50 percent of registered voters. It may have even approached 60 percent. It's sad that a 50-percent-plus turnout is something to get excited about. But it is. As a nation we are disillusioned with our government and political process. And we should be.

Maybe the long stretch of "major party" inactivity between March and November is the perfect opportunity for an independent candidate to become the next president of the United States. When they moved their primary dates up, most states didn't do the same with their filing deadlines for the November ballot.

It's ironic that the compressed primary season was triggered by the stated desire to give minority voters a greater say in the presidential primary process, and a black man ends up being the favorite to win the primary in one of the traditionally early, very white, primary states, New Hampshire.

It's doubly ironic that a woman won an "upset" victory over the black candidate in the very white state thanks to her "Muskie moment" on the campaign trail the other day. Television pundits were crediting Hillary's surge at the polls Tuesday to voters' favorable reaction to her show of emotion. Go figure. I guess people felt reassured to learn Hillary really is human. She never cracked during the Lewinsky scandal. Her stoic front made her seem cold and emotionless. When I first met the senator on a North Fork visit a couple of years ago, I was most impressed — and surprised — by her personal warmth. She's not the icy you-know-what she may seem to be. But then again, neither am I.

Ms. Civiletti invites you to join a discussion of this topic at Her e-mail address is

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