Party Bosses No Longer Pick Presidents ... Now It's Just a Handful of Voters in a Couple of Small States

Roundup: Media's Take

Adam Clymer, writing in the NYT (Feb. 5, 2004):

Democrats who once rebelled at having their presidential choices dictated by big-city bosses seem to have cheerfully handed over that power to small-town Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire. And this year New Hampshire may have subcontracted its role to Iowa.

How else can John Kerry's five victories, with about two-fifths of the total vote on Tuesday, be explained? After all, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey, only about one-third of prospective voters in those primary states said they knew enough about the Democratic candidates to make an informed choice. What the voters did know was that Mr. Kerry had won in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that polls showed that he was winning or gaining in their states. ...

Missouri may be the best example from Tuesday's primaries of the voters' choosing on the basis of front-runner status. Neither Mr. Kerry nor any other candidate had campaigned in the state until a week ago today, assuming that Dick Gephardt, the native son, had it locked up....

Oddly enough, it was Missouri that helped start the process that led to this spate of bunched-up primaries. At the boss-dominated 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Missouri's delegation was controlled, absolutely, by Gov. Warren Hearnes. Some of the meetings that had elected delegates were held in secret. One was held at night on a speeding bus. In that case it was impossible for supporters of Eugene McCarthy to participate.

In reaction to the behavior of Governor Hearnes and the other bosses, a party commission headed by George McGovern wrote the new rules that substantially survive today. It said its objective was to give Democratic voters a"full, meaningful and timely opportunity" to participate in the nomination process. Those rules encouraged states to hold primaries.


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