Here we go again. We’ve gone through the first part of the presidential campaign, with votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. The Democratic and Republican fields have narrowed . . . and weirdness prevails.
Let’s face it: none of these states is really very demographically or culturally representative of the country as a whole, but still they get to be the filters that sift through the candidates for the rest of us. So we get to see cardigan-wearing candidates yakking at town halls and hugging distraught young people. We try to understand obscure delegate selection rules — why caucuses, and not outright elections? — and hear about which Republican is going to appeal most to the born-again crowd. And Dixville North, New Hampshire gets it’s name on the national newscasts, just as it does every four years.
And each result in these early contests gets blown up to titanic proportions, even if the real differences are small. Consider yesterday’s Democratic caucuses in Nevada. Hillary Clinton won with 6,238 votes versus Bernie Sanders 5,589 votes. That’s less than 650 out of less than 12,000 votes, yet now the pundits say HRC has Big Mo on her side. And 12,000 votes? In Ohio we get that many people at some high school football games. Should a few thousand casino workers in Las Vegas and Reno really have such an influence on presidential politics?
Every four years we seem to ask this question — why don’t states like Ohio have a larger role in the presidential selection process? It’s being asked again this year, too. Ohio is a state that closely mirrors the country as a whole. It’s got big cities and rural areas, it’s got labor unions and small businesses, it’s ethnically and culturally diverse, and it’s politically diverse, too. And, perhaps most importantly, every election cycle Ohio ends up being one of the crucial “battleground states,” whereas no candidates are going to Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina when general elections are in the balance and Election Day is drawing near. Yet, in the primaries, we don’t get to Ohio until after the candidates wade through predominantly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire and largely evangelical states like Iowa and South Carolina, and some candidates who conceivably might be viable have dropped out because they’ve run out or money or failed to appeal sufficiently to the born again contingent. This year may present the same kind of scenario.
I know, some people will talk about the historic role of Iowa and New Hampshire, or say that it’s good for candidates to start in “retail” settings before they move to “wholesale” politics, but those are just rationalizations for a candidate selection process that just makes no sense. So this year we say what we say every four years: why not start the electoral process where it always ends up — in Ohio?