With all the recent talk about how a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would ensure the demise of that state's "First in the Nation" status, we must ask ourselves "Which states, then, should go first in 2016?"
Let's start by answering "Which states should have gone first in 2012?"
The answer: 1. Missouri 2. North Carolina 3. Indiana 4. Florida.
Over the past few years, I've written various drafts of a proposal on how our political parties might adopt primary election procedures that would better serve our country in selecting presidential candidates. However, I've since realized that my original vision was far too sweeping, idealistic, and unattainable.
I still contend that the primary calendar we need most is one that is built on an orderly and rational plan -- one that is based on mathematics and on recent historical outcomes. The change I now propose, however, is a smaller, simpler, and attainable one.
Both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee have settled upon the notion of "early window" primary states. This in itself is workable. What is NOT workable is that these early window states should always be the SAME four states every four years.
So which states SHOULD be in this early window?
The first four primary states should be chosen based on the margins of victory in the preceding presidential general election -- with those states registering the four NARROWEST margins-of-victory being invited (but not mandated) to hold their primaries first.
For example, in 2008, John McCain won Missouri by 0.1% and Barack Obama won North Carolina by 0.4% -- the two closest contests that year. Therefore, the proposed primary calendar for 2012 would have commenced with primaries being held in Missouri and North Carolina.
The purpose of selecting states according to narrowest margins-of-victory is to help the political parties determine which candidates can best appeal to the citizens of those states that have found themselves most recently on the Electoral Divide. A candidate who is able in 2012 to appeal to Indiana and Florida, for example, is more likely to appeal to a greater number of Americans on the whole.
This system would allow for a variety of new and different states to play a greater role in how the parties select their candidates. The aforementioned Missouri and North Carolina -- not Iowa and New Hampshire -- would have been the states to receive the coveted limelight of media focus, candidate attention, and campaign dollars this year. Likewise, back in 2008, Wisconsin and New Mexico (based on the 2004 election) would have had this opportunity, and -- based on the results to come in November of 2012 -- a still-different slate of states would have a more significant role come 2016. A rotating system will be healthier and fairer for us all.
Should the political parties still want to give prominence to IA, NH, SC, and NV, they can do so by placing those states in a secondary window. The margin-of-victory states would be invited to hold their primaries in January, while the "traditional" first four could then be given the month of February. Also, there's always the chance that these traditional states could still find themselves in the January window, depending on the narrowness of their own election results from the previous general election.
Racial and geographic diversity in this process has been a great concern for many. The narrowest margins of victory in 2008, however, were indeed in a wide variety of regions -- a Midwest state (MO), a Mid-Atlantic state (NC), a Great Lakes state (IN), and a Gulf state (FL). Likewise in 2004, in a Great Lakes state (WI), a Midwest state (IA), a Southwestern state (NM), and a New England state (NH).
Both parties have an interest in addressing these battle-line states earlier rather than later in the process. An incumbent president will want to win over those states that were most narrowly in doubt of him or her in the previous election, and opposing parties will want to put forth candidates who will have the best chance of winning over those very same states. Such focused competition could only serve to enhance the process.
This February 7th, 2012, I'll be paying closer attention to Missouri's primary results and asking myself "What if Missourians had been able to go first this time 'round?" -- that is, of course, if the candidate hasn't already been selected for us by then.
And perhaps we can all ask ourselves which heavenly deity was it anyway who ordained that "Iowa Shalt Forever and Always be First Amongst the People."