The Arkansas ballot in the Republican presidential primary this year lists 13 candidates, but only five are still in the race as of this writing, and we’re told we must choose between the top three because those are the only ones who can win.
Is this really the best way?
For much of the past year, Arkansas voters have watched the campaign unfold. We’ve watched debates on TV and discussed the candidates with family and friends. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy in Hope. A Ben Carson event on the Capitol steps drew thousands. Carly Fiorina visited Springdale. Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz made campaign stops.
Between then and now, voters in four states – as always, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – have narrowed our choices before Arkansans have had a chance to vote.
This happens every year. For months, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire meet candidates face to face and in intimate town halls – except for maybe Trump, who mostly speaks to big crowds. Real people share their concerns and offer their perspectives. It’s really a remarkable thing, if you think about it: The person capable of launching nuclear missiles asking for the support of the common man.
Unfortunately, these few states get to choose who the rest of us vote for. They don’t necessarily pick the winners as decide who has lost. They winnow the field. And the question is, why do they get to do it every election?
To make Arkansas more relevant, legislators last year moved the primaries earlier, to March 1, to coincide with other states in the South. Informally, it’s know as the “SEC primary.” After Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, we’re next.
The move has had its desired effect in that Arkansas has at least been visited by some of the candidates. Sen. Marco Rubio dropped by February 21, and Cruz is coming for his second visit and Trump his third this week. On the other hand, for candidates in other races, it makes for a long campaign.
Solutions? Here are four.
First, a national primary. Let everybody vote on the same day. That would be fair, and it would remove the horse race aspects of the campaign. It would no longer be a huge story that Rubio slipped up in a debate and finished fifth in New Hampshire and was in trouble, and then finished second in South Carolina and became the establishment pick. The downsides? The horse race still would occur – it just would occur in terms of an enormous money chase as candidates try to run a national campaign. Meanwhile candidates would lose the face to face contact with average citizens that occurs in those early states.
Second, regional primaries. Let the South vote on the same day, which is sort of happening this year, the West Coast on another day, etc. That solution probably would have the same effect as the national primary.
Third, take turns. Let three or four new states vote first next time, and then rotate. Over time, many different states’ interests would come to the forefront. The downside? It could take 12 or 13 electoral cycles before Arkansas gets its turn. That’s potentially half a century.
Fourth, leave it like it is. Iowa and New Hampshire know how to run a presidential campaign. So let them. They’re good folks.
Even though the people have spoken (in four states) and candidates have suspended their campaigns, Arkansans still can vote for the one they support. Every vote will be counted. So if you want to vote for Huckabee, or Sen. Rand Paul, or someone else, do it.
By the way, I’ve focused only on Republicans for a reason: Despite all the early campaign fireworks, in this election cycle Hillary Clinton has been the Democratic nominee a long time – long before even Iowans and New Hampshirites and Nevadans and South Carolinians had their say, actually.
She was sort of anointed, which wasn’t best for anyone, including, probably, her.