'08ers to Big States: We Only Love You for Your Money
Number of ’08 campaign events held in CA, TX, and NY: 303
Percentage of those events devoted to fundraising: 50.49
Number of ’08 campaign events held in IA, NH, and SC: 1272
Percentage of those events devoted to fundraising: 2.98
In the torrid romantic epic that is the presidential primary season, some states are wooed more vigorously than Romeo making a play for Juliet, all in the hopes of greater electoral affection come early 2008. For the states that hoped to increase their attractiveness by moving their primaries up to February 5, however, the courtship may be star-crossed. Though they may still get a shower of attention, it's not only love the candidates are after. These heart-breakin’ White House hopefuls are really engaged in some high-level gold digging. For some states, it seems, they mostly love them for their money.
Look at populous California, the super-wealthy Tsunami Tuesday state, as compared to the more modest New Hampshire. The Granite State has been host to twice as many events as California (162 events versus New Hampshire’s 358 as of July 24). That’s a lot of romantic outings for both states however you slice it. But what kind of political nookie is taking place on those particular dates? Well, in unassuming New Hampshire, a mere 1.68% were fundraisers, while the rest of the visits were specifically for winning over actual voters. Flashy, bling-sporting California, on the other hand, has been tapped for campaign cash in 47.53% of candidate events!
Wasn’t the point of big states moving their primaries to early February to increase their influence in the nominating process by having their voters matter more? The big states are certainly turning heads, but the candidates are looking into the states’ wallets rather than gazing deeply into their eyes. But you remember how it was in high school: the rich kids threw the best parties and had the coolest car, but your sweetheart was probably the boy or girl next door.
Clearly, frontloading by populous states is not diminishing the influence classic primary powerhouses like New Hampshire or Iowa. Iowa alone has been graced with the presidential hopefuls’ attention a whopping 720 times, and only hit up for money 2.36% of that time. Delegate-rich New York, with a population 6 times that of Iowa’s, has been host to campaign functions exactly one tenth as many times, with 45.83% of the events designed to generate campaign revenue. The lightly-populated New Mexico hasn’t seen any boom in campaign stops since it moved its primary to February 5th. In fact, it has garnered a meager 16 campaign “visits” so far, and all of them were by its own governor, Bill Richardson. 15 of those 16 stops home were for – you guessed it – fundraisers.
But influence is influence, right? Not necessarily. When the goal is to amass popular support, candidates are forced to address the issues that matter to all the people of a particular state. That’s the benefit of the retail politicking candidates must do in states like New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. When they’re trolling only for dollars, however, they focus on the issues that move people of means to write large checks. It’s unlikely there are many farmers or factory workers attending the $1000-a-plate dinners in Manhattan or Los Angeles.
Perhaps it’s time to tell a different kind of love story, one where all the states get a fairer shot on the candidates’ dance cards. There is a lot of important discussion going on about finding a better system for nominating our presidential standard-bearers. Some support rotating regional primaries, others a lottery system where states are randomly placed on the primary calendar. FairVote backs the “American Plan,” a system that creates clusters of primaries of increasing state size.
Whichever plan one might prefer, one thing is certain: almost anything would be an improvement on the current free-for-all. Let’s see if we can have a system where every state can get its fair share of political Valentines. You can learn more about proposed solutions from FairVote’s Presidential Elections Reform Program, and check out the discussion at our FixThePrimaries.com, which presents information on all the key proposals for reform.