It's (Still) A Primary Mess

We've all heard of the hit novel and movie Primary Colors. Next year's version should be Primary Mess. States looking to cash in on early primary (and caucus) publicity and clout have so jumbled the process as to make it unrecognizable. Have they jumbled it to the point where they might lower participation rates among primary voters and caucus-goers? These are, of course, the most devoted of all political participants and voters in the nation.

Earlier this week, my colleague Liz Halloran reported: "This season, the race for influence, attention, and the infusion of campaign money into local economies has devolved into an ugly power struggle between national and state party bosses. Five states have defied their national party rules by scheduling contests in January. More than 20 have moved up their votes to the first week in February."

But that was Tuesday, and this is Friday. Already two additional wrinkles have developed to change the landscape even more and add to the confusion.

First, the GOP announced yesterday that it will punish five states for jumping ahead in the primary schedule, as the Democratic Party did earlier this year. New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, and Wyoming will lose half their delegates to the Republican National Convention. This is because party rules require the political equivalent of 20 lashes for states that jump ahead of the traditional start date of February 5. Even though Iowa and Nevada are moving their caucuses to early and mid-January, they don't get spanked because the caucuses don't bind their delegates to support on the convention floor, whomever they vote for in January.

And Democrats are stripping Florida of all its delegates on the convention floor for moving up its primary date.

Even as late as today, some states are still trying to push up their candidate selection dates. Massachusetts officials from the governor on down are trying to change the state's primary from March 4 to the new "Super Tuesday" on February 5.

What effect? Who knows? The only thing that's assured is more mayhem.

By Bonnie Erbe