Posted on July 31, 2007
The presidential nomination system is broken. The American Dream that "any boy or girl can grow up to be president" has become a nightmare. Crowded schedules and government restraints on contributions close primaries to worthy competitors. States racing to schedule early contests have made the nomination process too long and expensive. As a result, media and money make decisions voters should make. The National Football League schedules 16 contests over five months to determine its champions. The Presidential nominating process uses the equivalent of two pre-season contests in Iowa and New Hampshire to narrow the field to two or three – and sometimes pick the winner. If professional football were presidential politics, SportsCenter would pick the Super Bowl teams after two pre-season games. The problem is not Iowa and New Hampshire. The problem is what comes after Iowa and New Hampshire. At least 18 states will choose delegates in a one-day traffic jam on February 5 next year. Our legislation requires states to spread out the primaries and caucuses into a series of regional contests over four months. Beginning in 2012, states could only schedule primaries and caucuses during the first weeks of March, April, May and June of presidential years. The traditional warm up contests in Iowa and New Hampshire would still come first, but they would return to their proper role as “off-Broadway” opportunities for lesser-known candidates to become well-enough known to compete on the four-month-long big stage. In addition, at the appropriate time I will offer an amendment to this legislation that would allow presidential candidates to raise up to $20 million in individual contribution amounts of up to $10,000, indexed for inflation. The current limit of $2,300 makes it too hard for many worthy but unknown candidates to raise enough early money to be taken seriously – leaving the field to the rich (who constitutionally can spend their own funds) and famous. Together, these two reforms – spreading out the primaries and allowing a "start-up" fund for candidates – will increase the pool of good candidates willing to run for the White House and give more Americans the opportunity to hear their ideas and to cast a meaningful vote.