Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Presidential Primary Process

Two Super Bowls

Posted on February 2, 2004

I propose that we turn the presidential nominating process over to the National Football League. Then, maybe we could have a second Super Bowl where anything is possible and everyone can participate. Take the example of Sen. John Kerry's team, the New England Patriots - last night's Super Bowl champions. On September 12, in the season's first game, the Buffalo Bills trounced the Patriots, 31-0. If this had been the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus, the Patriots would have been toast. You know the pundits' rule, "Only three tickets out of Iowa." The Patriots did not look like one of the three best teams. Then the Washington Redskins defeated the Patriots, as unlikely as it would have been for Dennis Kucinich to upend Kerry in New Hampshire. But, in the NFL, upsets don't end the season. The Patriots played 14 more games. They won them all. Yesterday, they beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl for their 15th consecutive win. The NFL schedules twenty weeks of contests over five months to determine its champion. The presidential nominating process uses the equivalent of two pre-season games in Iowa and New Hampshire to narrow the field to two or three - and sometimes pick the winner. The NFL wasn't always so wise. In the 1930's, league owners rearranged schedules after the first few games so that teams that were doing well could play one another. This was good for the Chicago Bears, for example, but not for the league. Fans in other cities quit going to games - just as voters in most states have quit voting in presidential primaries. Bears owners George Halas and others created today's competitive system in which almost any one of 32 teams can hope to make the playoffs. Green Bay can make it because the league makes sure even small town teams have enough revenue. Prime time television opportunities are rotated. Each Monday senior officials in the league's New York office grade every call and no call to second guess even the instant replays. Professional football has become America's Game because it symbolizes the most important aspect of the American character: if you work hard and play by the rules, anything is possible. As a result, eight of 10 of the most watched network television shows have been super bowls; 98 of the 100 best watched cable TV games have been NFL games. Every September the NFL fields 32 teams, almost all with a shot at the playoffs. Every four years the presidential nominating process does well to attract a half dozen credible candidates for the biggest job in the world - and all but half are effectively eliminated after two contests. If professional football were presidential politics, Sportscenter would pick the Super Bowl teams after three or four preseason games. These two steps would fix the process: 1. Spread out the primaries - Twenty-eight primaries are crammed into five weeks after New Hampshire. Congress should assume the role of Paul Tagliabue. Create a window between February and May during which primaries may be held every two weeks. Iowa and New Hampshire can still come first, but they would become off-Broadway warm-ups and not the whole show. 2. Allow more money - To raise their first $10 million, let candidates collect individual "start-up contributions" of up to $10,000. Today's $2,000 limit makes it impossible for most potential candidates to imagine how to raise, say, $40 million. (During 1995, when I was a candidate, and the individual limit on contributions was $1,000, I attended 250 fundraisers to collect $10 million). The combination of the new $2,000 limit, the increased coverage on new cable channels and the growth of the Internet have made it easier to raise early money. Still, all but Kerry were short on cash after New Hampshire. Put it this way: the Packers would never make it into the playoffs under the revenue rules of presidential primaries. Forty-five thousand Iowans voted for John Kerry in the first caucus. About 83,000 New Hampshirites voted for him in the first primary. More Americans actually attended last night's Super Bowl than voted in either Iowa or New Hampshire. Ninety million others watched the game on television. Perhaps we should learn something from America's game about how to pick a president.