In about a month's time, both parties likely will have chosen their nominees and the fields will have shrunk from eight Democrats and seven Republicans to two nominees. After the endless courtship and grind follows the shotgun wedding.
RealClearPolitics.com HorseRace blogger Jay Cost calls the schedule "hyper-compacted." No lie. Already -- before a single vote has been cast -- a group of former Beltway windbags are working on a summit with Republican New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is flirting with running for the White House as an independent. A summit? The from-on-high swells aren't even waiting for voters to pull a lever to be disillusioned with their choice.
It starts with the Iowa caucus Thursday and the New Hampshire primary the following Tuesday. Then, after a few scattered caucuses and primaries, comes Tsunami Tuesday on Feb. 5, with contests in more than 20 states, including California.
You may recall that supporters of a February presidential primary in California argued it would bring the candidates here for more than crass campaign fundraising. (That's like Pamela Anderson expecting to be liked for her personality.)
And they argued that Golden State voters would be the winners as candidates concentrated more on state issues, and California constituents would have a say in their parties' nomination. But the addition of California and New York means that money does all the talking, because no candidate can win the primary without raising cruise ships-full of cash.
"Better to be part of a flawed process than not participating at all," Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, told me over the phone Monday.
I can't agree. Yes, Californians will get to vote in the presidential primary before it is settled. The cost for this highly diluted primary vote, however, will be an expected record low turnout in the state's second primary, on June 6, for state and federal offices. Where their votes will count most, Californians will vote least.
As blogger Cost observed, those of us who follow politics for a living "have this false premise in our head" that this state-heavy primary will involve more voters in the process. But in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, there is a tradition of involvement. Voters get to meet the candidates, often spending months deliberating and even shaping the issues.
With a tsunami primary, there will be no such tradition. And even winning a particular state won't matter as much because the compacted schedule is so tight, there's no time for momentum. With the compacted timetable, Cost noted, candidates "don't have the time to parlay a win" from Iowa or New Hampshire, unless they already have the early money to buy TV ads in Los Angeles or New York. In which case, they've done so.
As a result, if John Edwards or Mike Huckabee wins in Iowa, it might not help them. -- "You need to start spacing these events out," said Cost. -- The greed of state politicians has turned what used to be an orderly process into a free-for-all, as politicos, hungry to inflate their own importance, elbow their states to the front of the line.
I'm not saying the best candidates won't win. It could be that the eventual nominees would have prevailed under a host of circumstances because they offer primary voters what they most want. But there has to be a better way to schedule early contests so that the field whittles down gradually, and successful candidates, who didn't raise big money early on, have the opportunity to build momentum.
Sure, with Tsunami Tuesday, everyone participates, but so do people fleeing a nightclub in a fire. It's a free-for-all, with lots of scrambling and flailing, and everyone gets singed.