The American Presidential Nomination Process

Published: 2021-06-29 06:53:17
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Category: American History

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In recent years, the presidential primary season has served as a backdrop to instances of human drama that have illuminated man's ever-hopeful nature, yet also revealed his capability for cruelty. In 2000, for example, a malicious scene unfolded in South Carolina as John McCain fell victim to a vicious smear campaign that essentially ended his bid for the Republican nomination in what the New York Times later described as "a painful symbol of the brutality of American politics." Eight years later, conversely, amid growing controversy over comments made by his pastor, Barack Obama delivered an eloquent speech on the state of race relations in contemporary America. He described ugly vestiges of Jim Crow discrimination but also articulated his hope for a bright future in which society is not "irrevocably bound to a tragic past." The speech endeared him to countless Americans of all races, and helped put his candidacy back on track and eventually became the first African-American president of the United States. With such displays of triumph and controversy, it is unfortunate that many citizens are utterly confused by the procedure of nominations, and therefore, become disengaged from the political process. One explanation is that many people believe the nomination process is excessively complicated, anachronistic, and arbitrary, rendering some voters more powerful than others. As a result of this dissatisfaction, many legitimate reform proposals have been promulgated, but none yet have been instituted. Consequently, many of the nagging flaws persist.
One significant problem with the contemporary system is the monopoly that is given to Iowa and New Hampshire in conducting the first caucus and primary, respectively. Every presidential election cycle, these two diminutive states exert an inordinate amount of influence over the nomination process. Candidates who perform well in these states can gain a great advantage and can segue a victory, or even just a better-than-expected showing, into great momentum with respect to fund-raising, media attention, and victories in later primaries. Politicians understand this and begin campaigning in these states as much as a year in advance. They listen attentively to the problems and needs of these two state's citizenry, which can sometimes morph into outright pandering to the special interests of the Granite and Hawkeye states. There is "no constitutional basis" (Lansford 39) for this advantageous position but is rather a mere consequence of historical precedence. Moreover, Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the country as a whole, further exacerbating the problem of them being the bellwethers of presidential hopefuls. For instance, African-Americans constitute 12.3 percent of the United States but only 2.1 percent of Iowa and 0.7 of New Hampshire (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). They have similar under representation of every major minority group and also posses a more rural population and experience less poverty than the rest of the nation. Therefore, a candidate who has great appeal to urban areas with diverse populations does not compete on a level playing field in New Hampshire and Iowa. Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia's Center for Politics, succinctly writes, "Put simply, why should two tiny, heavily white, disproportionately rural states have a staggeringly powerful and electorally imbalanced say in the making of the next president? Answering that question is easy enough: They shouldn't" (Sabato 143).

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