No state, it appears, wants to be left behind in next year's presidential race. More than a dozen of them have scheduled their delegate-selection contests on the amazingly early date of February 5, all to encourage the candidates and the media to pay attention to them.
So what amounts to a "megaprimary" will take place that day, when California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and other delegate-rich states will hold primaries in a coast-to-coast showdown that could decide each party's nominee. An additional seven states are considering whether to join in.
"Nobody has the resources to campaign fully everywhere," says the senior strategist for a top-tier Republican campaign. As a result, it's likely that no candidate will be able to dominate, and each contender will focus on areas of perceived strength.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, is expected to campaign heavily in New York State and neighboring New Jersey. He also is expected to make a major effort in California, where his centrist stands on social issues might give him an edge.
Fred Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, who is likely to enter the race, has a different approach. He is expected to compete heavily in his home region-southern and border states such as Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas, where Giuliani and others are considered weak.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's aides say she will wage a national campaign, with special focus on California, her birth state of Illinois, and New York. Barack Obama has similar national plans but also hopes to compete with Clinton for African-American votes in the South.
Another wild card is where this leaves the earlier states of Iowa, which holds first-in-the-nation caucuses January 14; New Hampshire, which holds the first primary January 22, and South Carolina, which holds a Democratic primary January 29 and a Republican primary February 2. These states traditionally filter out weaker candidates and sometimes propel dark horses into contention.
Will that happen this time? There are two theories.
One is that the earliest states will be reduced in importance because everyone, especially the news media, will be focusing on the megastates. The opposing theory is that the early states will be more important than ever because wins there would catapult a candidate into February 5 with tremendous momentum.
And then there's Florida, which recently decided to hold its primary on January 29-the same day as the Democratic contest in South Carolina. It will be yet another wild card in a calendar filled with them.
KEEP AN EYE ON...
Florida, which has moved its primary to January 29, leaping ahead of the gaggle of other states that have scheduled a quasi-national primary on February 5. Watch for an army of candidates, advisers, and reporters to sweep through the Sunshine State right after the New Hampshire primary January 22.
By Kenneth T. Walsh