We choose our presidents by their telegenic smile and their willingness to utter platitudes in southwest nowheresville two years before the election.
Arthur T. Hadley1
These words of a contemporary political analyst reflect the outright contempt some have for the process by which American political parties choose their presidential candidates. In fact, the present system used by the Democratic and Republican parties to select their nominees has few wholehearted defenders. Critics argue that the process lasts too long, costs too much, encourages intraparty factionalism, discriminates against voters in states with late primaries or caucuses, and ultimately makes it more difficult for the presidents we elect to govern. This article examines how the current process has evolved and considers prospects for future reform. Although I share the general feeling that the current system has major defects, this article makes it clear that there are important obstacles to reform, and that it is unlikely that any future reform will satisfy every group with a stake in the nomination process.
How Political Parties Select a Candidate
A political party is not a fixed entity; rather, it is an ever-changing mix of individuals and groups who use the institution of a party to advance their own goals. Figure 1 models a political party in terms of three concentric circles consisting of leaders, activists, and supporters. Leaders include prominent officeholders and party officials; activists are those who work on behalf of the party or specific candidates, generally as volunteers; and supporters are those who habitually vote for the party in general elections. As the model indicates, activists are also supporters, and leaders are both activists and supporters of the party.
Different groups within political parties may have different goals in the presidential nomination process. All party members are interested in winning elections, but depending on whether one is a leader, an activist, or merely a supporter, this goal may conflict with other purposes.
Leaders want to nominate a candidate who will win the general election, but they also want to nominate a candidate who will not threaten the organizational stability of the party itself or their positions within it. A leader may prefer a nominee who will lose to a nominee who will win, but who may undermine his or her power. For example, in the 2000 primaries, the overwhelming opposition to Senator McCain among Republican elected officials may have reflected concern that his campaign finance reform agenda would threaten their ability to win reelection.
Activists tend to be motivated by policy goals, and they often have views that are out of the political mainstream. Activists tend to be wealthier, more highly educated, and more likely to hold ideologically extreme views than are held by the electorate at large.2 This group may prefer to lose an election with a candidate who zestfully champions their causes, like George McGovern or Barry Goldwater, than to win with a candidate who compromises on their principles.
Finally, party supporters are more like the electorate at large. They tend to vote for the partys candidates, but their allegiance is conditional, and their support can be lost if the party fails to nominate candidates who reflect their views or if the candidate elected, once elected, fails to deliver good government. Moreover, the growth of primaries has correspondingly increased the publics belief that participation in the nominating process should be open to all party supporters and not restricted to activists and leaders.
The public has an interest in how parties select their presidential nominees, as it has been 147 years since anyone other than a Democrat or a Republican has occupied the White House. What is the publics interest in nomination contests? Good government is clearly one goal. For most Americans, which party is in power appears to be less important than having a government that responds to the needs of its citizens. Participation is another goal. The public has an interest in a lively debate about ideas both within and between parties. Even an unsuccessful candidate can have a long-term impact on public policies if he or she can use the forum of a nomination campaign to bring new ideas into the political debate. Table 1 lists several goals that different groups may have in the nomination process, and which groups are most likely to value each goal.
The goals of different groups are often in conflict, and no method of candidate selection is likely to satisfy everyone. Furthermore, there is a fourth group that has tremendous impact on the nomination processthose who contribute money to political campaigns. Contributors are hard to place in the conventional party model shown in Figure 1. Some campaign contributors are simply activists who wish to promote a particular candidate or cause; however, other contributors may lie outside of the circle, if they are concerned not with the broad interests of the party or the general public, but with seeking material benefits by gaining access to the winning candidate. Still other contributors may be party leaders using the influence of money to determine the outcome of the nomination, much in the way political bosses of the past used their power within the partyincluding the ability to deliver votesto decide the nominee.
The next section of this article briefly discusses the history of presidential nominations in the United States and examines how the present system evolved. Throughout most of American history, party leaders determined presidential nominees. For a brief period, it seemed as if activists had seized control of the nomination process, but the power to select nominees quickly passed to party supporters, and increasingly, to those who contribute to candidates.
The Domination of the Leaders:
National Party Conventions, 1832-1968
Prior to the rise of party conventions, the presidential candidates of national parties were chosen by members of Congress. The first national party convention was held by the small party of Anti-Masons in 1831. Democrats and Whigs quickly followed suit. Conventions have provided some of the most high-stakes political drama in American politics because of the frequent struggle by party members to decide on a nominee.
The 1860 Democratic Convention opened in Charleston, S.C., but adjourned after 57 votes failed to produce a winner, and the delegates of nine southern states walked out over the issue of slavery. When the convention reconvened in Baltimore six weeks later, it nominated Stephen Douglass, who had led throughout but been unable to win a two-thirds majority. The 1912 Republican Convention nominated incumbent President William Howard Taft over ex-President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had won in the primaries, but Taft had secured more delegates, many of whom Roosevelt contested unsuccessfully. He then left the Republican Party to run a third party, Bull Moose, candidacy.
The longest convention in American history was the 1924 Democratic convention, when delegates took seventeen days and 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis. Convention rules often contributed to such deadlock. Until 1936, Democrats required a two-thirds majority to nominate a candidate, and resultantly, held seven conventions requiring more than ten ballots between 1832 and 1932. The last multi-ballot conventions were the 1948 Republican convention and the 1952 Democratic convention.3
Conventions have also served the function of building enthusiasm for the partys candidates, and even before the advent of television, sometimes this enthusiasm was not entirely spontaneous. At the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1940, a message from President Franklin Roosevelt was read indicating that the president had no desire to be nominated for an unprecedented third term. The delegates were stunned, but soon a We want Roosevelt chant began that lasted for forty-five minutes, leaving Roosevelt no choice but to accept the nomination. This demonstration did not begin on its own. Chicagos superintendent of sewers had rigged a microphone into the arenas public address system and started the chant immediately after Roosevelts statement was read. This went down in history as the voice from the sewer.
In the early part of the twentieth century, supporters of the Progressive movement championed primaries as a means to expand popular participation in the nominating process. This first push for primaries can be viewed as a largely unsuccessful effort by activists to wrest control over the nominating process from party leaders. The first presidential primaries were held in 1912, and their use continued in succeeding elections; but, by the 1930s, many states had repealed primary laws because costs were high, participation was low, and leading candidates often ignored them altogether. Some states continued to hold primaries, and occasionally, primaries did have an impact on the nomination.4 However, primaries were never the sole determinant of the nominee, and some candidatesfor example, Adlai Stevenson in 1952won nomination without running in any primaries at all. Entering primaries was often interpreted as a sign of candidate weakness, and even those candidates who did enter primaries still had to court party leaders to have any chance at winning the nomination.5 All of this changed after the 1968 convention of Democrats in Chicago.
The Revolt of the Activists:
The McGovern-Fraser Reforms
The 1968 Democratic convention was among the most contentious party meetings in history, and dissatisfaction with its results provided motivation for the reforms that changed the nomination system and led to the rise of the current primary-dominated system. In 1968, as was customary, most Democratic convention delegates were selected in caucuses of party functionaries. Such caucuses were generally not well publicized, and were sometimes held more than a year before the convention.
In 1968, the majority of delegates selected in Democratic caucuses supported Vice President Humphrey who, by virtue of his position within the
Johnson Administration, was perceived as a candidate who would continue American involvement in the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, two anti-war candidates, Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, together won
over two-thirds of the votes cast in Democratic primaries. Humphrey, who contested no primaries, nevertheless won the nomination. The system had produced a candidate who did not reflect the views of activists, particularly on the issue of the Vietnam War, and the convention was acrimonious.
Pressure from party activists at the convention resulted in the creation of the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which proceeded to rewrite the partys rules between 1969 and 1970. The Commission mandated that all national convention delegates had to be chosen in forums that were open to all party members and conducted within the calendar year of the election. States holding primaries had to place the names of qualified candidates on the ballot, and the distribution of convention delegates would be proportional, in order to reflect the results of such primaries. Prior to the reforms, many states held delegate primaries in which the names of delegates, but not of candidates, appeared on the ballot. In many other states, primaries were advisory onlyso-called beauty contests that had no bearing on the distribution of convention delegates. In addition, the Commission gave the party the means to enforce the new rules by centralizing control over the certification of delegates within the national party organization.6
The most obvious consequence of the McGovern-Fraser Commission has been an increase in the number of states holding primaries. The number of states with Democratic primaries grew from 17 in 1968, to 23 in 1972, to 40 in the year 2000. The number of states holding Republican primaries increased from 16 in 1968, to 22 in 1972, to 43 in 2000. Not surprisingly, reforms have led to increased popular participation in the nominating process. In 1968, only 13 million Americans participated in the nominating process, while in 2000, over 30 million Americans voted in primaries or took part in caucuses.7
At this point, one may wonder why changes in Democratic Party rules should have led to changes in how the Republicans select their presidential nominees. In fact, state Republican parties remain free to choose delegates using methods that are banned by the Democratic Partyincluding advisory primaries and delegate primariesand many Republican states continue to use winner-take-all rather than proportional representation in delegate selection contests.8 Nevertheless, Republicans in most states did not resist the Democratic reforms. Where Democrats controlled state legislatures and changed state laws to replace caucuses with primaries, Republicans generally adopted a primary as well, not wanting to give Democrats the chance to register new voters for primaries and gain the media attention that comes with a primary election without opposition.
The Rise of the Supporters:
Primaries Overtake the Conventions
There is considerable evidence that the reformers on the McGovern-Fraser Commission did not intend to create a process dominated by primaries. Rather, they envisioned a system in which caucuses continued to dominate, but such caucuses would have new rules to prevent their manipulation by party leaders. In the first post-reform nomination contest in 1972, Democratic activists succeeded in choosing one of their own, Senator George McGovernnot coincidentally, the same George McGovern who was co-chair of the commission that wrote the new rules. McGovern was able to win the nomination on the strength of his success in caucus states, despite winning only about one-quarter of the vote in Democratic primaries.9
One reason why the Democrats reforms ultimately led most states to adopt primaries is that party leaders had quick proof that, under the new rules, a well-organized candidate who lacked broad popular support could nevertheless win in low-turnout caucuses, and they rightly feared that such candidates would not fare well in general elections. Caucuses discourage participation because they are more complicated and time consuming than are primary elections. Moreover, many party members are uncomfortable with casting their votes publicly in caucuses rather than privately in a voting booth. Ideological candidates with a committed base of activistslike McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and Pat Robertsonhave been particularly successful in caucuses. On the other hand, primaries, with their higher turnouts, favor candidates with the support of rank-and-file supporters who are essential to the partys general election success. Although primaries attract fewer voters than do general elections, turnout in primaries has been estimated at ten to eighteen times higher than turnout in caucuses, and the primary electorate tends to be more representative of a general election electorate than is a caucus electorate.10
The growth of primaries has profoundly changed the nature of national party conventions. Party leaders no longer negotiate who will be the nominee in smoke-filled rooms. Conventions are now dominated by candidate enthusiasts, and delegates simply confirm the results of the primary elections. In the post-reform era, there has never been a national convention that was not decided on the first ballot.11 Likewise, the tasks of choosing a vice-presidential candidate and writing a party platform have been largely assumed by the winning candidates organization. Although occasionally blocks of delegates will challenge the committees writing the partys platform on specific issues, for the most part, little internal democracy is practiced in modern-day conventions.
The only remaining function of a national convention is to build enthusiasm for the partys candidates in the fall election by putting on a good television show. Since the first televised national party conventions in 1952, parties have increasingly choreographed conventions for the television audience. Parties take care to make sure that the roll call of the states and the speeches of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees take place in prime time, while any intra-party debates expected to be contentious occur when few viewers are likely to be watching. Crotty and Jackson write, the single big party event, the national convention, is an essentially meaningless sham, orchestrated for television.12 Ironically, by turning conventions into television spectacles, the conventions have become so predictable that the networks are increasingly cutting back on their coverage.
The Current Drift:
Front Loading the Primaries
The increasing number of primaries seems to have shifted power to party supporters regarding the decision of who should be the partys nominee. This power, however, has been distributed unevenly, so that voters in states holding primaries and caucuses early in the nominating season have a disproportionate impact over the choice of who will be the nominee. Seeking to influence the process, more and more states have scheduled their primaries earlier and earlier in the year. Both the Democratic and Republican nominations this year were effectively determined on March 7, when eleven statesincluding California and New Yorkheld their primaries. This front loading of the primaries has been the source of new calls for reform of the nominating process.
Although some party officials like front loading because it brings a quick end to the nomination campaign and allows time for party wounds to heal, the process is clearly unfair to voters in states that hold their primaries or caucuses after the nomination has been decided. Furthermore, front loading adds yet another obstacle to candidates who are unable to raise huge sums of money before the campaign season begins. This year, front loading stacked the odds in favor of the most well-known and well-funded candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush. Only one serious candidate stepped forward to challenge Gore, and although Bush initially faced a large field of challengers, six of the twelve original candidates withdrew before any delegates were chosen. Three more dropped out in the three weeks after the Iowa caucus.
Given the importance of money in a front loaded primary season, perhaps it is the contributors who really decide who the nominees will be. Hadley argued in 1975 that the presidential nominations were being decidedbefore anyone entered a voting booth or appeared at a party caucusduring the pre-primary period of fundraising that he famously termed the invisible primary.13 In fact, with the exception of President Gerald Ford, who raised less money than Ronald Reagan in 1976, the candidate raising the most funds prior to the first primary has won every party nomination since 1976.14
This pattern held true in 2000. On the Democratic side, Vice President Gore had only a slight fundraising edge over Senator Bradley ($33 million versus $29 million as of April 30, 2000). Among Republicans, on the other hand, Bush raised an incredible $78 million dollars, far outdistancing the $28 million raised by his closest rival, John McCain.15 The dynamics of the invisible primary remain mysterious. Although Governor Bush had the advantage of family ties, he was no better qualified to be president than were any number of other potential Republican candidates who sought financial support in the invisible primary; yet Bush was clearly the choice of contributors.
Who are the contributors? The 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act limit individual contributions to presidential nomination campaigns in order to prevent wealthy contributors from buying political candidates (although there are no limits whatsoever on the ability of a rich candidate to attempt to buy the nomination for him/herself).16 It is reasonable to suspect that many who contribute to political campaigns are not acting out of a disinterested concern for the public good. For example, a survey of contributors to presidential primary campaigns in 1988 showed that roughly half of all contributors donated money to more than one candidate.17
Although individuals must limit their contributions to a primary or general election, contributors often increase their influence by soliciting additional donations from friends and associates. Lawyer-lobbyists raise money for candidates in order to gain access to officeholders for themselves and for their clients. Furthermore, contributors are mostly white males with high incomes, and are far less representative of the populace at large than are primary voters.18 Even if contributions ultimately do not buy any favors from candidates, Witcover argues that the fundraising process demeans candidates by turning them into groveling beggars.19
Evaluating the Nomination Process
Whether party leaders, activists, supporters, or even contributors, dominate the nomination process may be, for most Americans, less important than whether the nomination process results in the election of capable leaders and contributes to good government. Many have argued that the post-reform system has led to the election of presidents who are unprepared to govern and contributed to policy deadlock in Washington. The system tends to reward campaigning skills rather than experience in national affairs. Moreover, presidents who have no prior ties to other key party members in Congress are likely to have difficulty in accomplishing legislative goals. President Carter is frequently cited as an example of a president who gained the nomination without the help of other party leaders, and was unprepared to work with fellow Democrats in Congress to govern.20
At first glance, however, there is not much evidence that the presidential candidates nominated in the post-reform era are less qualified for the office than were candidates nominated in the past. The nominees of the two major parties since 1972 have been governors, senators, and sitting or former vice presidents. The post-reform system has never led to the nomination of a candidate with no state executive or national legislative experience. Although it is often said that the process discourages candidates with differing backgroundsfor example, Colin Powel#151;from running for president, there is no reason to believe that such individuals are any more qualified than are the candidates who did decide to run.
One thing is certain: post-reform candidates are people with a strong ambition to be president. Many have noted that running for president is so time consuming that it should be considered a full-time job. Lamar Alexander, for example, had only one job between 1994 and 2000running for president.21 Only those candidates who are willing to commit themselves to the grueling work of campaigning ever rise to the level of a national party presidential candidate. George W. Bush and Al Gore are candidates whose desire to be president is unquestionably strong. Gore first offered himself as a candidate for president when he was a 39-year-old senator from Tennessee with no great legislative accomplishments to his name. Bush began testing the presidential waters barely two years into his first term as governor of Texas, the first office to which he had ever been elected.22
None of this would be a problem if political campaigns enabled voters to distinguish the truly qualified candidates from the ambitious pretenders, but modern campaigns fall well short of democratic ideals. The logic of primary campaigns compels candidates to try to distinguish themselves from their competitors within the party, but often such candidates do not disagree on policies and resort to an emphasis on image to distinguish themselves. Some political scientists emphasize that primaries compel candidates to criticize and malign one another before a statewide and national audience and encourage party members to divide themselves into opposing camps, undermining the partys chances in the general election.23 Candidates who are truly standard bearers for some identifiable constituency are increasingly rare. Instead, candidates emerge who are largely unknown, and primary voters in early primaries must take what little information they have and try to decide who would make the best president. Ehrenhalt writes, To expect a Democratic voter in Iowa to know whether Paul Simon or Michael Dukakis would make a better president is to expect a miracle.24
Prospects for Reform
The current process has no shortage of critics, and political analysts frequently suggest reforms to the nominating system. This article will conclude with a discussion of one reform proposal that gained a measure of support within the Republican Partythe Delaware Plan.25 The main goal of the Delaware Plan is to reverse the trend toward the front loading of primaries. Under this plan, states would be grouped into four groups by population. The smallest states would hold the first primaries and caucuses beginning in the first week of March. A month later, the group of second smallest states could begin to hold nomination contests, followed by the next largest group of states in May. Finally, in June, the largest states would hold their primaries and caucuses. (See Table 2.) Because 47% of delegates would be selected in the last month, the likely result of the plan would be nomination contests that did not produce a victor until June.
One of the goals of the Brock Commission (the Republican Party commission that recommended adoption of this reform) was to increase voter participation; if adopted, the Delaware Plan seems likely to accomplish that goal. In addition, the Delaware Plan offers a glimmer of hope for those candidates unable to raise a fortune in the invisible primary. Small states are less expensive to contest, and perhaps an underfunded candidate could perform well enough in early contests to attract the funding needed for the later contests in larger states.
The Delaware Plan will not be in place in 2004. The plan was approved by the Republican National Committee and was on track to be debated on the floor of the Republican National Convention. Just prior to the convention, however, officials from the Bush campaign signaled that Governor Bush did not want to have a debate on the proposa#151;fearing that such a debate would be divisiveand the conventions rules committee killed the proposal. In addition, the rules committee voted against a proposal that would have empowered the Republican National Committee to change the rules regarding the nominating process without the approval of the full convention.26
The main opposition to the Delaware Plan within the Republican Party comes from leaders in large states who fear that they would lose influence if their states had to hold their primaries last. The Democratic Party, which would almost certainly have to adopt the Delaware Plan for it to take effect, has objected that the small population states that would hold early primaries lack racial and ethnic diversity and do not represent the country as a whole. In addition, there is no groundswell of public support for the Delaware Plan, or for the notion that the primary season ended too quickly.27
Another potential problem is that the Delaware Plan increases the possibility that no clear winner will emerge from the primaries. If proportional representation (rather than winner-take-all) is adopted for all Republican primaries, as the Brock Commission also recommends, the possibility that no candidate will win a majority of delegates will further increase. Although a contested convention could be very entertaining, there are serious questions about whether a modern candidate-dominated convention is capable of negotiating an outcome that would be acceptable to all the factions in the party.
The delegates at modern conventions are there primarily because of their loyalties to particular candidates, and not because they are themselves representatives of the party or its members. If a contested convention did occur, perhaps the candidates would attempt to make a deal among themselves to decide the nominee. If the candidates lost control of delegates, the result could be chaos or deadlock. The 2000 Democratic convention had more than 4,300 delegates (and the Republicans more than 2,000), a far cry from the 265 delegates who met at the Democratic convention in 1835. The exercise of deliberative democracy in a body this large may not be possible.
Lurking in the background of the debate over reform proposals is a more fundamental disagreement about the nature of the political system. On one side of this divide stand those, such as Polsby, who believe that rules and institutions shape individual behaviors and political outcomes, and who emphasize the importance of the McGovern-Fraser Commission rules in reshaping not only the nomination process but also how Americans are governed.28 On the other side are those, such as Reiter, who argue that rules simply reflect broader social changes and public attitudes regarding political legitimacy. He writes, Even if the McGovern-Fraser Commission and its successors had never held a meeting, we would have ended up with roughly the system we have now.29
In Reiters view, rule changes were the consequences of the decline of partisan identification, the decay of party organizations, and the rise of polling and the mass media. He argues that party leaders lost their grip over the nomination process even before the McGovern-Fraser Commission. Reforms that attempt to reverse this trend are doomed to failure.30 This debate is important because if Polsby is correct, parties can act to change their rules, and rule changes are a means to resolve inequities within the present system. If Reiter is correct, however, would-be reformers underestimate the obstacles ahead of them and, even if they are able to effect reforms in the nomination process, such reforms are unlikely to alter how politics works in the United States.
1. Arthur T. Hadley, The Invisible Primary (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976), 280.
2. Nelson Polsby, Consequences of Party Reform (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 159-160.
3. Coleen McGuiness, ed., National Party Conventions: 1831-1988 (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1991). This reference work contains details about every national party convention held by a major party in the United States through 1988.
4. General Eisenhowers success in the 1952 Republican primaries may have convinced party leaders that he was more electable than his chief competitor, Senator Robert Taft. John Kennedys victory in the 1960 Democratic primary in West Virginia was viewed as a demonstration that a Catholic candidate could win in a Protestant state. See Rhodes Cook, Race for the Presidency: Winning the 2000 Nomination (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2000), 5.
5. For a history of primaries, see Carolyn Goldlinger, ed., Presidential Elections Since 1789, 5th Edition (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1991). For a discussion of candidate strategies, see Polsby, 230.
6. Polsby, 34-54.
7. William Crotty and John S. Jackson, Presidential Primaries and Nominations (Washington: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1985), 83. For information regarding the 2000 presidential selection process, I have relied on an excellent nonpartisan website that provides thorough explanations of party rules and detailed results of all primary and caucus elections, The Green Papers [www.thegreenpapers.com].
8. The Democrats currently require that any candidate receiving more than 15% of the primary or caucus votes in a states Democratic nominating contest must receive convention delegates in proportion to the vote. For a guide to current party delegate selection rules, see The Green Papers.
9. McGovern actually received fewer primary votes in 1972 than did rival Hubert Humphrey, and three candidates (McGovern, Humphrey, and George Wallace) each received between 23% to 26% of the total votes cast in Democratic primaries in 1972. See Goldlinger, 49.
10. Since 1972, turnout in primaries has ranged from 25% to 40% of turnout in a typical general election. It is not always possible to determine caucus turnout with certainty. Due to its position as the first delegate selection contest in the nation, turnout in the Iowa caucus tends to be considerably higher than turnout in other caucuses, but still lower than the turnout in a typical primary. See William G. Mayer, Caucuses: How They Work, What Difference They Make, in William Mayer, ed., In Pursuit of the White House: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1996), 126-127.
11. There have been close nomination contests. In the 1976 Republican convention, Ford defeated Reagan by only 117 votes out of 2,257 cast for the two candidates. In both the 1980 and 1984 Democratic conventions, there were unsuccessful attempts to change convention procedures to deny the front-runner, Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984, a first ballot victory. See McGuiness.
12. Crotty and Jackson, 277.
14. Emmett H. Buell, Jr., The Invisible Primary, in William Mayer, ed., In Pursuit of the White House: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1996), 14.
15. Data on receipts and expenditures in the 2000 nomination campaign reflect activity through April 30, 2000, and are available at the FEC website [www.fec.gov]. Money does not necessarily buy success. Steve Forbes spent $49 million in 2000, including over $40 million of his own money to win a total of two delegates.
16. Prior to contribution limits, candidates could raise large amounts in a short period. McGovern raised $500,000 from five contributors. A candidate could enter the race late and still have funds. Kennedy did not become a candidate in 1968 until mid-March, but still managed to raise sufficient funds to contest later primaries. See Anthony Corrado, The Changing Environment of Presidential Campaign Finance, in William Mayer, ed., In Pursuit of the White House: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1996), 225. Superwealthy candidates, like Steve Forbes, can avoid this problem by spending their own money, which is not restricted.
17. Clifford W. Brown, Lynda W. Powell, and Clyde Wilcox, Serious Money: Fundraising and Contributing in Presidential Nomination Campaigns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 136-145.
19. Jules Witcover, No Way to Pick a President (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), 281.
20. Polsby, 104-128.
21. Witcover, 18.
22. A New York Times article from January 1997 stated, It is no secret to anybody in Texass massive pink-granite Capitol that Gov. George W. Bush is already thinking about running for President in 2000. See Sam Howe Verhovek, Bush Tax Plan for Texas and 2000, The New York Times (January 30, 1997): A12.
23. James I. Lengle, Diana Owen, and Molly W. Sonner, Divisive Nominating Mechanisms and Democratic Electoral Prospects, The Journal of Politics 57, no. 2 (May 1995): 372.
24. Alan Ehrenhalt, The United States of Ambition: Politicians, Power, and the Pursuit of Office (New York: Times Books, 1992), 266-267.
25. The plan is known as the Delaware Plan because it originated within the Delaware Republican Party, and Delaware would be among the states in the first set of primaries and caucuses if this plan were to be adopted. The Brock Commission considered several reform plans. See Nominating Future Presidents: A Review of the Republican Process, Advisory Commission on the Presidential Nominating Process: A Report Commissioned on behalf of the Republican National Committee (May 2000). The full text of the Brock Commissions report is available online at www.rnc.org/newsroom/new_releases/nominatingfuturepresidents_050200.html. For a small taste of some other suggested reforms, see John Haskell, Fundamentally Flawed: Understanding and Reforming Presidential Primaries (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996), 143-149; and Witcover, 173-175.
26. David Broder, GOP Scraps Plan to Alter Primary Schedule, The Washington Post (July 29, 2000), A6.
27. For a discussion of reaction to the Delaware Plan, see Gregory L. Giroux, Big States Resist Republicans Primary Plan, Congressional Quarterly (May 18, 2000). In a recent survey, when respondents were asked whether they believed that the Delaware Plan would be better than the current system, only 38% agreed. In the same survey, only 6% agreed that the primary season ended too quickly. See CBS Poll: Primary Colors (June 1, 2000) available online at cbsnews.cbs.com/now/story/10,1597,96544-412,00.shtml.
29. Howard Reiter, Selecting the President: The Nominating Process in Transition (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 142.
30. For example, the 1982 Hunt Commission created superdelegates for the Democratic National Conventions. Superdelegates consist of Democratic members of Congress and high-ranking party officials, and they are roughly 15% of party delegates. In theory, superdelegates do not have to commit themselves to supporting any particular candidate. In practice, however, superdelegates rarely remain uncommitted and often announce their support for a particular candidate before the primaries have begun. See Haskell, 25-26.
About the Author
Scott Piroth is a doctoral candidate in political science in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C.