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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Broder v. Alterman on Iowa and NH

David Broder calls the NYT "arrogant" for applauding the decision by Lieberman and Clark not to contest Iowa. Eric Alterman says Broder's position makes no sense. Both have a point.

Broder is correct that the people in New Hampshire (I've been there the week prior to a primary, though never to Iowa) do take the process very seriously. They know who the candidates are and try to figure out their positions and what they'd be like as president, which is more than can be said of the people in most other states.

Alterman is correct that Iowa and New Hampshire are not very representative states compared to the country as a whole and it's silly that they have such disproportionate influence over deciding the leader of the free world.

The question we have to ask is whether the engagement in the electoral process we see from citizens in Iowa and New Hampshire is the reason we have them vote first or just a consequence of having them vote first. If the former is the case, keeping the primary system as is makes sense. If the latter is the case, then there's nothing special about these two states other than their place on the calendar. We could have Alabama and South Dakota lead off and then the people in those states would be far more engaged in the process too.

I lean toward the second option. Iowans and NH residents know the candidates because they're holding lots of events throughout the states and bombarding them with TV ads. And they know that their votes actually will be pretty important in the grand scheme of things, so they pay attention. That's why we need a primary system that gives more of a voice to the rest of the country rather than the antiquated system that the parties stick with due to inertia.