So how will we choose who are the frontrunners before anyone has voted? How will candidates impact the polls in order to swell their coffers? The early primary date means that the virtual primaries that will designate the frontrunners will be held on cable television, the Internet, and talk radio. The Republican Virtual Primary will be held on Fox News, the Limbaugh, Hannity, and other conservative talk radio shows, and the right-wing websites. The Democratic Virtual Primary will be held on National Public Radio, PBS, a handful of liberal talk shows, the network news programs, and websites like MoveOn.org where liberals congregate.
But what happens if the candidate chosen by this instant virtual lottery has feet of clay that only become evident when he or she actually runs for office in a real election? The testing, seasoning, vetting, and whittling-down of the field, which used to take five or six months, cannot now take place at all. We will never know how the candidates of each party will perform in an actual election. Voters in each party will be buying a car without being able to take it for a drive.
In 2004, when the process was so truncated that Kerry was chosen as the nominee in March, the Democratic Party found itself saddled with a deeply flawed candidate whose shortcomings were not evident until after the Democratic Convention had nominated him. Throughout the fall of 2004, Kerry’s inability as a candidate became so glaringly obvious that Democrats didn’t give him a second look when he sought their nomination again this year.
The early primary dates would seem, at the moment, to confer an enormous advantage on the frontrunners in each party: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Their current leads in the polls and their consequent fundraising advantage make them stronger favorites than they might be if they had to run in a succession of primaries week after week.
So the new process, bequeathed to us by the advancing of the primary dates, will reward the rich, the pollsters, and the talk shows. And politics will never be the same again.