Motivated partly by a desire to maximize their state's impact on the two party's nominating processes, California is moving to hold its presidential primary in February, 2008. Historically, the California primary has been held in June, often well after the nominees have been decided by other states' primaries and caucuses.
Nevada, another Western state, has already decided to caret its caucus between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, the leadoff events in the Republican and Democratic Party's nominating processes since 1976, when an obscure former Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter won the Democratic contest in Iowa.
There have long been complaints that states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, another early participant in the nominating process, are less than representative of the country. In addition, various regions have complained that they have been underrepresented in the early phases of the campaigns, when momentum elevates some candidates and eliminates others long before their voters go to the polls.
But I wonder, is California any more representative of the country than New Hampshire?
California is, of course, the largest state in the country. It has 12% of the membership of the US House of Representatives. And 10.2% of the Electoral College membership comes from the state. It's true that many of the trends that eventually overtake the country originate there. All of these facts can be offered as indications that an early California primary makes sense.
However, if places like New Hampshire and Iowa put a premium on organization and personal pressing of the flesh by candidates, California gives advantages to the candidates with lots of money. You win contested primaries in California with lots of TV ads in the state's many major markets. Furthermore, California is probably far bluer than the rest of the country, even on the Republican side of the ledger.
California then, is no more representative of the rest the country than Iowa or New Hampshire, maybe less so, and it virtually eliminates candidates with less money from the race for their party's nomination.
Barring a move to a national primary, it seems to me that it would be best if the earliest primary contests happened in states more representative of the country, swing states that have a proven track record of going with the winners in presidential general elections, states whose demographic make-up is close to that of the country as a whole.
Ohio fits those specifications. Consider:
- There have been 51 presidential elections since 1804. Ohio has voted with the winner 43 times, an unmatched predictor of electoral success, an 84.3% success rate. Since 1960, that rate goes to 92% and since 1972, when the parties began instituting their post-Watergate reforms, the number is 100%! The well-worn cliche is, "As Ohio goes, so goes the nation." That's why in the late-1800s, so many successful major party nominees were from Ohio. (Not all were very successful Presidents, however.) It's why even today, candidates spend so much time, money, and effort here.
- Ohio is far more urbanized than the rest of the country, with 277.3 people per square mile, compared with 79.6 people for the country as a whole. But in other categories, Ohio well matches the rest of the country. Just look at the most recent numbers from the US Census Bureau. Ohio is far more representative of the country and is thus far likelier to produce candidates that will elicit enthusiasm from the country than any other state. Industry, service companies, education and research, and agriculture are all well-represented in the state. Columbus, the state's capital and largest city, has long been considered an ideal place to test market products and services because it's so reflective of the country as a whole.
For more than two-hundred years, Ohio has been a bellwether for the rest of the country. Giving it the first primary or one of the earliest primaries of the season makes sense if we want to get candidates to which the whole country can warm, candidates who will win in the fall. It's still true that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.
[UPDATE: Icepick asks if Columbus is larger than Cleveland and Cincinnati. Yes.]