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Whose Primary Is On First?


Presidential polling in August of an odd-numbered year isn’t likely to tell you much, but it reveals a little something about those who obsess over the numbers. And coverage of the latest round of numbers hints at the possibility that the national political media, sticking to the narrative of presidential primaries of the past, may miss the boat when America votes in 2008.

Hillary Clinton stole the headlines in the latest poll by increasing her national lead to a near-majority of Democratic Primary voters. Her recent confrontation with rival Barack Obama over his experience and fitness to serve, so the narrative goes, worked. In the same poll, among Republicans, fellow New Yorker, front-running centrist Rudy Giuliani, extended his lead over non-candidate candidate Fred Thompson, big-spending Mitt Romney and the moribund John McCain campaign although you’d hardly know it from the news accounts.

Why? Well the political press are following the old script that says the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are still the most important states in picking a president. More likely, that talking point has been well-distributed by the campaigns of Mitt Romney and John Edwards who are undoubtedly saying: don’t look behind the curtain of the national numbers – we’re competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire!

Unfortunately for these two states and those two candidates, the traditional first-in-the-nation status held by New Hampshire and Iowa has quietly fallen. The first votes of the 2008 Presidential contest will be cast in Downey, Calif., not De Moines, Iowa and in Modesto, Calif., not Manchester, N.H..

The California primary is officially February 5th, but more residents of this state will have cast more ballots before the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary than will be counted in both the states combined when they are able to start voting on January 7 – a month before the polls open. And many of those folks – permanent absentees – will be reminded to vote when they get their ballots delivered to their doors by the U.S. Post Office sometime in early January.

That’s one reason why the presidential nominees from either party won’t be those who are focused on Iowa, which caucuses on Jan. 14, and New Hampshire, which votes on Jan. 22, but will likely be the candidates who realize that Californians will begin voting just after Christmas, before college football has crowned my beloved USC Trojans champions in New Orleans on January 8th. And they’ll keep casting ballots through and until February 5th when the polls open.

In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom rode to victory on ballots that were mailed in well before election day. Two years later, Republicans in California focused heavily on securing absentee votes and there were early indications that the GOP could claim victory in some statewide offices. On election day and anti-Bush, anti-GOP fervor swept the nation, suppressing Republican turnout and encouraging some Republicans to even punch the chads of Democrats. But despite the Democratic tidal wave on election day, Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner managed to win statewide office with two others coming within spitting distance of their opponents.

In 2008, California could see a similar phenomenon with its Presidential primary. So far, the State’s polling numbers have tracked along with the national numbers. Clinton and Giuliani are not only leading but they’re extending their leads in the Golden State.

Should a John Edwards or a Mitt Romney pull off an upset in Iowa or New Hampshire, it may be too late to affect the vote in California because, well, many ballots will already have been cast. The national media, if they continue sticking to their playbook of campaigns past and are either unaware or choosing to overlook this phenomenon may get left dockside as the Clinton and Giuliani campaign set sail on a tidal wave from the Golden State.

Editor’s Note: California’s permanent absentee balloting is a phenomenon Spot-on writers have been following for some time. Here’s Chris Nolan’s take on the Newsom election and the increasing popularity of the state’s vote-by-mail system.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 11:56 AM | Permalink

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