Editorial: Moving up primary day

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

When it comes to selecting presidential nominees, Massachusetts has long sat on the sidelines.

We've watched Iowa's priorities set the national agenda because its caucuses come first. We've watched TV commercials beamed from Boston stations to New Hampshire viewers. But by the time Massachusetts voters headed to the polls, the winners have already been named. Candidates have come to Massachusetts to raise money, not to gather votes.

That was presumed to be the scenario again this time around, with the state's presidential primaries scheduled for March 4. By that time, at least 36 states would have already held their caucuses or primaries, including most of the largest states. While it's theoretically possible the battle in one or both parties will still be raging at that point, most consider it unlikely.

But with so many other states trying to get in on the campaign action by moving their primaries earlier on the calendar, Massachusetts leaders have decided to follow suit. Secretary of State William Galvin is calling for the primary to be moved to Feb. 5. Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi have endorsed the idea, and legislation to that effect could be fast-tracked to reach Patrick's desk before Thanksgiving.

Even with the earlier date, Massachusetts wouldn't get much of the spotlight. That day is now being called the national primary, with at least 21 states holding primaries or caucuses, including heavyweights like California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey. Massachusetts may well get lost in that crowd, but at least we'll have voted on the day TV commentators pronounce a winner.

Galvin offers another reason to move up the primaries: He has to schedule five special legislative elections to fill vacant seats, and doing them at the same time as the primaries would save money for the state and some municipalities.

It is disturbing that so many state legislators have left their jobs just 11 months after they were sworn in, but that's not Galvin's fault, and since we must replace the officials walking away from the jobs they were elected to do, we might as well save money where we can.

What's disturbing is the larger picture. The primary schedule has become so truncated that a nominating process that used to stretch over six months will likely be over in a month. Candidates with low name recognition and limited campaign funds no longer have the opportunity to win converts through retail campaigning in the early states and build momentum and a campaign warchest in the weeks and months between Iowa and whoever's last in line.

As a result, we get nominees who have barely been tested and a general election campaign that will stretch from February to November. Without voters weighing in at intervals through a six-month campaign, the media call the campaign tune, the candidates aren't tested over a long haul, and voters have too much time in which to experience buyers' remorse.

It's a lousy system for choosing presidential nominees, and every four years it seems to get worse. We'd much prefer a set of regional primaries, set a month apart, that alternated in order. That way there would be at least a fair chance that states voting in May or June could have some influence on the nominations.

That isn't happening this time around, though, so rather than have Bay State voters be irrelevant once again, moving things up a month makes sense. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.