Paul  Weyrich

California did it. Governor Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure passed by the ultra-liberal California Legislature which moves the Presidential primary to February 5, 2008. Many other States, including New York and Texas, may do so. New Hampshire, the nation's first primary election, is forced now to move its date up a bit so that it retains the status as the kingmaker of American politics. Depending how the New Hampshire Legislature legislates, the Iowa Caucuses may be moved up even earlier. Next thing we know we will all be casting our ballots on the way to church on Christmas Eve or to our synagogue on the way to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

If this weren't so serious it would be humorous.

At the beginning of the 20th Century primaries were unknown. Each State selected its delegates to the national conventions by holding a caucus of some sort. I don't mean anything like the Iowa Caucuses, which now attract well over 100,000 participants. No, these caucuses were relatively small. At most a few hundred of the party faithful gathered together for the purpose of sending a select few to the national gathering, which was much larger and often in a distant city. It was about these caucuses that the term "smoke-filled room" was born. In a few States, just a handful of people in a room, where cigars and brandy were abundant, sat down to play cards and to figure out who the next nominee of their party would be.

Then along came Governor Robert M. LaFollette (D-WI,) who initiated the primary system as a means to select delegates to the national conventions.

LaFollette was one of the founders of the Progressive Party and the primary was one of his many reforms, designed to put more power in the hands of the people, thus lessening the power of the smoked-filled room. A few States adopted the Progressive Party reforms but most continued to select their delegates to a national convention by a caucus of some sort. It wasn't until the latter half of the 20th Century that the majority of States adopted the primary system. Now only a handful of States still select delegates by convention.

The primary system is a good one provided that it is stretched over several months. From the Iowa Caucuses in January to the California Primary in June potential nominees could be vetted by the electorate. It was a time for practice, if you will, for the major national election in November.

Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
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