Start the presidential nominating process in Florida

The idea: Replace the current lead-off states for the presidential primaries (Iowa and New Hampshire) with Florida.

Why it makes sense: As small and largely homogenous states lacking even a single major city, Iowa and New Hampshire are demographically and economically unrepresentative the rest of the nation. By allowing the two states to winnow the field so early on, both parties risk having their primary contests shaped in ways that could haunt them during the general election. Indeed, the disconnect between the lead-off states and the rest of the country is substantial: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and John McCain all lost in Iowa before going on to win the nomination; and only one Democrat (Jimmy Carter) has ever won a contested New Hampshire primary and gone on to victory in November. In possessing the right the “narrow the field”, Iowa and NH could be depriving both parties of candidates that would enjoy national success.

Florida, by contrast, is a large, heterogeneous swing-state that is a priority for both parties come November. If the Sunshine State were to lead-off in the primaries, candidates would be forced to appeal to a diverse pool of voters possessing economic interests that closely track those of the rest of the nation. The Floridian economy is built not on a single sector, but on heavy industry, agriculture, technology, and professional services, making it difficult for candidates to pander to a narrow group of special interests in the way that they currently do in Iowa (read: ethanol subsidies).

Florida also has an important historical claim to the right to stage the nation’s first primaries: in 1904, the state was the first to hold a presidential primary. New Hampshire did not hold a contested primary until 1952, and Iowans didn’t participate in a seriously contested caucus until 1972.

Could it happen? If it does, it would mean stripping voters in Iowa and New Hampshire of a privilege that some see as a birthright – no easy task. Moreover, both parties seem committed to maintaining the status quo. After attempting to the leapfrog to the front of the primary calendar in 2008, Michigan and Florida were stripped of their Democratic state delegations. Florida tried it again in 2012 and lost half of all its delegates. So committed are the people of NH and Iowa to their first-in-the-nation status that it seems that the legislatures of both states will do everything in their power to ensure that they continue kick-off primary season – even if it means moving the contests to December.

Likelihood of happening: 25% (Wouldn’t bet on it).

Picture by PBS News Hour.


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