The presidential primary system is out of control, but I suppose it should come as no surprise to a political scientist. When the wannabes start lining up in earnest four years before Election Day, protracting an already tedious campaign process, and since science tells us that gas will expand to fill a void, it should only follow that the primary season would swell to fill the extra space.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve already groused about how the primary system has become a huge propaganda event for the conditioning the American public, repeating the lie that ours is but a two-party political system. Worse, the scam is pulled off with such genius that taxpayers don’t even gripe over the fact that cost of the propaganda campaign is paid for out of their own pockets. So since we already pay to hold them, why not wrest control of the primaries away from the Republicans and Democrats and establish federally regulated rules that would ensure the primaries take place in an equitable fashion?
The “America Plan” addresses some of the current shortcomings of the current system, but it leaves intact the problem of focusing strategies on states that vote early and remains skewed in favor of deep pocketed and superstar candidates. Another plan is needed, and I have such a plan.
Under the Spinney Plan, the new primary system would even provide a means for leveling the playing field for candidates, while doing away with the quaint but silly notion that any one state has the “right” to go first. While I think it is interesting that Iowa and New Hampshire can exert such influence on a presidential campaign, we’re seeing this year just how far other states will go to have their moment in the limelight.
The Spinney Plan goes back to 1990 when I was a younger man, attending the University of Southern Maine, working toward my degree in political science. In those days I had a sense of arrogance born of what I felt was a certain worldly wisdom gained from four years as an intelligence analyst in the Navy and a promising start as a cog in Maine’s political machine. I didn’t excel as a student, but I was hyperactive in the field. During one discussion in Professor Bill Coogan’s class, I hit upon a way to transform the presidential primary system and expanded my idea into a paper. The Spinney Plan was born, and while the paper itself is long since lost, the idea still stands as a solution to our primary problem.
First, all the primaries and caucuses must take place on the same date. There’s no other way to deal with the imbalance of a staggered system, but while holding fifty primary elections on a single day may address the issue of small states holding undue influence on a national selection process, it reintroduces the problem of the inequity of large states, rewarding candidates who pour money and time into states like California, Texas, Florida, and New York.
I address this situation by creating a two-tiered primary in which the country is divided into seven electoral regions: Northeast, Mid Atlantic, Southeast, Great Lakes, West, Southwest, and Northwest. In the first stage of the primary, only candidates from within their home region may run, thereby encouraging more participation from a broader range of potential candidates. Well-known politicians, business leaders, and others with presidential aspirations would campaign among those who know them best without fear that a high-profile candidate from a delegate rich state might upstage them in their own backyard with more money and better organization.
The result of the regional primary elections would be to ensure that the finalists all come out of their home court runoff with a major electoral endorsement. Each could claim an equal share of momentum based on having won within their region, launching all seven winners into a national race with the benefit of greater name recognition and the chance to have developed a clear platform for the national stage.
A Mitt Romney, for example, would have to defend his views and record among those who know him best, with other candidates from the Northeast region, such as, say, a Rudy Giuliani. Instead of spending all his time and money in Iowa hoping to convince Hawkeye State voters that he’s the type of staunch conservative they crave, while conveniently forgetting to mention his malleable positions on issues such as gay rights and varmint hunting, a Romney would be on the record defending himself on his home turf and, if successful, then get to worry about his national image.
The Spinney Plan would also ensure that a candidate with strong foreign policy credentials, for example, and a long record of public service, like a Joe Biden, would have a platform for airing his views without being overwhelmed by a starry-eyed, flavor of the month candidate in the mold of a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton. If a Biden is able to win in the Mid Atlantic by proving his inside baseball acumen is what is needed to guide our nation forward, it would be difficult to ignore his influence during the ensuing national debate.
Under the Spinney Plan, the first round of elections would be held in early November, like we’re used to doing and, once the first round is over, give the seven winning regional candidates three months to campaign for the honor of representing their party. Such a limited window would minimize the influence of money, which would have to be spread with equity across the country, and put a premium on grass-roots support and organizational skills. In early February, another one-day national primary election would take place with the winners moving on to the November elections for right to be called the Leader of the Free World.
Critics might argue that the Spinney Plan is too complex, or would be vulnerable to pork barrel influences. I say hogwash! What could be more complex than the system we have today that has us writing and erasing dates while state parties practice political gamesmanship before arriving at a final (really, this time) decision as to when to hold their elections? And what good would it do a candidate to promise a major make-work project to curry favor in their home region if they knew they’d then have to defend that decision on a national scale — or be pegged as a tax-and-spender by upping the ante during a national debate?
The Spinney Plan is solid. The Spinney Plan will work. The Spinney Plan is what is best for America.