When I managed Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign in 1996, I learned that some states conducted fair and honest caucuses and primaries and that some did not.
Iowa, historically the first caucus state, and New Hampshire, historically the first primary state, conducted their political business fairly. New York did not.
Today Virginia's political system is beginning to resemble New York's in 1996.
To get on the Republican primary ballot in New York that year, a candidate needed to submit signatures from 1,250 registered Republican voters in each of the state's 31 congressional districts or signatures from 5 percent of registered Republicans in a district if that number were less than 1,250.
But that was not all. Only a registered Republican living in the district or a notary public could collect signatures; they could gather signatures only between Thanksgiving and Jan. 4; and signatures could be challenged by opposing campaigns.
As The New York Times reported then, petitions could be disqualified for technicalities -- for example, if they were bound "with paper clips instead of staples."
Early in 1995, virtually the entire New York Republican establishment -- including then-Gov. George Pataki and then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato -- endorsed then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas for the Republican presidential nomination. They made clear that they wanted to lock other candidates out of New York's primary and award Dole New York's delegates without giving the grass roots of their own party any say in the matter.
"New York State's party chairman, William Powers, vows to have the party's full complement of 33,000 committee people out circulating petitions for Mr. Dole, which will make it hard for other candidates to find Republican field workers," The New York Times reported March 30, 1995. "Candidates who try to provide voters with a choice by circulating nominating petitions will also be tortured by ballot-wise lawyers ready to raise every nit in New York's nitpicking election law to get their petitions declared invalid."
This confronted Dole's rivals with a strategic dilemma.
On the one hand, attempting to get on New York's ballot would carry enormous costs. A candidate could either pay massive sums to hire people to circulate petitions or build a massive grass-roots army of in-state volunteers. The first means would take money that a non-establishment candidate could not readily spare from earlier contests. The second would drain operatives and institutional focus from those contests.