The Upside of the Prolonged GOP Primary Fight

States that might have been afterthoughts are now all significant.

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The still-unresolved GOP primary race is being used to portray the Republican party as an organization in tumult, one that is so divided it can't decide, half-way through the nominating process, who it wants as its presidential nominee. And while there are indeed divisions within the party, the length of the process is not an indicator of it. In fact, it stands (along with the Democrats' 2008 primary season) as a sign that both parties can be rid of a more serious divisive fight: the childish argument over who gets to go first in the primary process.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Traditionally, Iowa and New Hampshire have gone first, and for many years, other states were OK with that. Then rogue states started to get cranky. Both Iowa and New Hampshire were overwhelmingly white, the other states noted—how is that fair, in the interests of recognizing America's diversity? And why should two such small states get such amplified power by weeding out candidates early on?

First, the race/ethnicity argument is somewhat specious and a little insulting, since it suggests that racial and ethnic groups will only vote for their own kind. And because the very nature of campaigning in both New Hampshire and Iowa is so personal and grassroots, everyone is given a hearing. The size of both states' media markets means that it is impossible to buy victories there by saturating the airwaves, so lesser-funded candidates have more of a chance, as well.

[See pictures of the 2012 GOP candidates.]

But now, the other complaint—that the race is virtually over by the time primaries are held in mid-March and April—is no longer valid, either. In the 2008 Democratic primary, a May contest in Puerto Rico ended up being important, since the race was so close. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned there, bringing attention to issues that otherwise might have been ignored (and which usually are). Pennsylvania ended up being extremely important as well. Florida and Michigan—which broke the rules by moving up their primaries that year—would have been better off waiting their turns. They would have had a much bigger impact on the race.

So now, with former Gov. Mitt Romney ahead but unable yet to close the deal, with former Sen. Rick Santorum scoring some impressive (but not determinate) victories, and with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul apparently determined to stay in as long as they can afford it, states that might have been afterthoughts are now all significant. Even Idaho, with its low electoral vote prize, got visits from candidates. We're in the middle of March, and contests in the coming few weeks are all going to matter. Patience, in the electoral schedule, is not only a virtue, but brings added power as well.

  • Read 5 Reasons Why Iowa is The Perfect Place For the First 2012 Contest
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