I flagged this in headlines yesterday but in case you missed it, the South Carolina GOP’s going to leapfrog Florida (which had already leapfrogged South Carolina) to retain its “first in the south” bragging rights by moving its primary from February 2 to January 19. New Hampshire has a law that requires its primary to be first in the nation so now they’ve got to move up too, probably to January 8. Iowa, meanwhile, has its own law requiring the caucuses to be held eight days before any other voting, so to stay ahead of New Hampshire they’re looking at … late December of this year. My question to you: Who wins and who loses? The biggest impact would seem to be on Mitt, who’s leading in both Iowa and NH. He’s counting on the bounce from wins there to carry him into Mega Tuesday on February 5 but the more time there is in the interim, the softer the bounce will likely be. Then again, Mitt’s problem has always been name recognition, so you could argue that the earlier Iowa is, the earlier the national media has to cover his victory and get people seriously thinking about him. I think it’s a wash. The other guy on whom this obviously bears is Fred and his non-candidacy candidacy. I doubt he’ll declare any earlier because of it but he’s going to lose a couple of weeks that he could have spent introducing himself to national voters in order to focus on Iowa. He’s already planning his first visit, in fact.
Here’s the more interesting angle — not what happens before Mega Tuesday but what happens after:
The calendar changes are infuriating senior strategists for presidential candidates in both parties, who say it is forcing them to plot a path to the nomination through quicksand. The uncertainty is holding up decisions about where to campaign and to devote resources.
“If you’re facing a moving chessboard, it’s pretty difficult to know where to make your first move,” said Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University. “Imagine playing chess if the board keeps changing.”
Lichtman said earlier voting could create the longest-ever general election campaign if the two party nominees are largely decided by mid-January. That would leave almost 10 months for the candidates — and any third-party entrant — to battle for the presidency before Election Day on Nov. 4, 2008.
“We could have the general election starting at a time when traditionally the nominees hadn’t been close to being selected,” he said. The primary campaign has so far done “anything but inspire the voters,” he added. “I doubt if a 10-month general election campaign will do any better.”
Doesn’t this make it even more likely that a third-party (and even a fourth-party) candidate will jump in? Hillary is walking away with the Democratic nomination; she may be the de facto nominee well before mid-January. The GOP race will be closer, especially with a guy like Mitt who’s currently in fourth leading in the early primaries, but if Fred or Rudy somehow emerge to take the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire and one of them looks like they’re going to sweep the board on Mega Tuesday, the public is going to get very bored very fast with a 10-month two-party slog towards November. It’s practically an invitation to Bloomberg to jump in and make things interesting. The media’s gratitude for a wild card in an otherwise dull hand would ensure loads of initial hysterical messianic Perot-ish good buzz and Bloomy’s got money to burn for an historic six-month lark. Why not do it? If he’s such a visionary “issues” guy, beholden to no ideology, it would be a grand opportunity for him to force his issues into the national conversation. After five years of him here in NYC I still don’t have the faintest idea of what “his issues” might be, but I’m sure he can come up with some in time for spring.
The guy most likely to try a third-party run is, of course, Ron Paul, but the media’s not any more enamored of him than most conservatives are. I almost hope he runs just to see how they’d handle him.
Update: Dean notes per Rasmussen’s numbers that Fred appears to be stalling.