Early States Use Sharp Elbows in 2012 Campaign (Correct): View

Rick Perry wants Social Security turned over to the states -- or at least he seemed to say so in his recent book. Mitt Romney thinks that’s a dumb idea, but says health-care policy should be left to the states. The Republican budget, proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, would turn over Medicaid (health care for the poor) to the states.

Before they get too carried away about the glories of the Nifty Fifty, these Republicans ought to consider the farce that the states are making of the Republican presidential primary schedule. The chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, Chad Connelly, announced this week that South Carolina’s primary will be Jan. 21. That’s five weeks earlier than the previously scheduled date. Connelly says South Carolina was forced to make the move because of Florida’s decision last week to hold its primary on Jan. 31.

Nobody wants the formal presidential campaign to start in January. In fact, the Republican Party has a rule prohibiting states from holding primaries before Feb. 1. But states find the attention, glamour and dollars that accrue to the early-primary (or early-caucus) states irresistible. They’ll even take the official punishment -- a loss of up to half of their convention delegate quota -- for the chance of spying Diane Sawyer or Anderson Cooper working out in the local gym. And hometown operators of TV and radio stations appreciate the extra millions that early states reap in political advertising.

Ancient Tradition

By ancient tradition, New Hampshire holds the first primary. And just to be sure that tradition is respected, New Hampshire has a law that says, in effect, “Our primary comes seven days before anybody else’s, no matter what, so don’t bother trying to jump ahead.” Most other states don’t bother to try. But lately troublemakers like Florida -- which jumped the gun in 2008 and liked the experience so much it’s doing it again -- have been creating chaos.

The only state that has managed to leapfrog New Hampshire on the calendar is Iowa, with its caucuses, which were discovered by the national news media back in 1976 and are now accepted as a sacred part of our democratic process, though only people who show up at a caucus on a midwinter night in Iowa get to vote -- 354,000 of them, or 0.1 percent of the U.S. population, in a record-shattering turnout in 2008.

Because it has never been obvious why Iowans and New Hampshirites should be super-empowered citizens who set the agenda in presidential politics every four years, goo-goos, political scientists and other civic-minded sorts have long championed reform of the primary system.

Rotating Calendar

There is no shortage of alternatives. A national primary. Six regional primaries over six weeks, starting in the east and going west. Or eight, over eight months, starting west and going east. We prefer a rotating calendar that would enable every state to cycle through the early limelight before politely moving to the back of the line. But we would happily support virtually any proposal that breaks the ill-gotten influence of the early-primary states.

We look forward to the day when candidates trek through the Ozarks in January eager for a leg up in the make-or-break Arkansas primary. (At least it begins with “A,” which is more than the current crop of early states can say.) The trouble is, we’re unsure how the political desperados of Iowa and New Hampshire could be made to abide by this, or any, equitable agreement. And Florida would jump the gun.

( (Corrects percentage of U.S. population voting in 2008 Iowa caucuses in fifth paragraph.) )

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.