In the wake of the first two presidential election events— in Iowa and New Hampshire— the clamor has begun to re-shuffle the primary election deck in the years to come. Both states, critics argue, are bereft of the kind of diversity that one might think would underpin a modern-day democracy concerned with inclusion and picking a representative candidate.
But that raises the question: If not New Hampshire, which state should be the first to go to the polls.
We like what MSNBC anchor and commentator Lawrence O’Donnell told WGBH-TV on the subject: “It should be Massachusetts. It should be a state that is geographically small so the candidates can get around the whole state, preferably within one day, and the news media can follow them. But that state must have everything that America has. It has to have major league baseball, it has to have black people, it has to have rural communities, it has to have farms, it has to have everything that America has. Massachusetts is one of those states.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught Lawrence O’Donnell at St. Brendan’s, would be very proud of O’Donnell’s pitch for the hometown brand.
But Lawrence is onto something here, no?
One thing about taking New Hampshire out of the pole position it now holds is that our own state— which overlaps in terms of media markets with the Granite State— would lose out on the chance to hear more from early candidates, many of whom start stumping north of the border a full year before the polls open. One of the reasons that Massachusetts has consistently fielded legit contenders for the Oval Office like Kennedy, Dukakis, Kerry, Romney, Warren has been their proximity and familiarity to the people of New Hampshire, many of whom are native to the Boston area or at least have an affinity for the politicians across the border.
Taking NH off the early electoral board would also diminish the influence of Boston area politicos, where whole generations of them have cut their teeth in the national game up in the Lakes Regions and White Mountains.
Sure, Massachusetts is a reliably blue state in the national context, but our electorate has also proven that it likes to dose its progressive plasma with a regular infusion of moderation in the form of Republican governors. In the 29 years since 1991, Republican moderates have sat in the state’s executive suite for a combined 21 years— with only Deval Patrick interrupting the trend.
But if shuffling Massachusetts to the top of the primary deck is too much of a stretch, how about staging a New England primary — with each of the six states coordinating its own election on the same day. The regional primary would allow for more of a mixture of rural and big city vote, while also making it easier for candidates to crisscross a fairly compact region. Or perhaps throw in New York and dub it the “Northeast Regional” and give an even more diverse electorate an early voice in the nomination process.
While doing that, scrap Iowa’s faulty caucus setup altogether and push the primary season a bit deeper into the spring, giving more candidates more time to make their case.
Not everyone agrees that the formula is broken, of course. Whoever emerges as the winner of this election cycle is not likely to beat the reform drum loudly, since the process in place will have panned out for him or her. But, from where we sit in the middle of the 2020 primary season, it certainly feels like change is afoot.