The 1988 Presidential election was the first one in which I was allowed to vote. I was registered in my home state of California but was off at college in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire has the first presidential primary in the country and gets a lot of attention. Every candidate wandered by Dartmouth at some point. I made an effort to go see every single one of them speak.
It was a time before the internet and not every soundbite escaped to the national media. The question and answer portions after speeches often revealed sides of the candidates not seen on television. Bruce Babbit candidly admitting he did not believe much had changed with the Reagan Revolution after one speech.
Jack Kemp had a lot of support in the Dartmouth area. His son had played quarterback for the Big Green. That was not enough to overcome the support George H. W. Bush got from Ronald Reagan and Governor John Sununu, who would later become Bush's chief of staff. Bush saved his Republican hopes.
Mike Dukakis, from neighboring Massachusetts, won New Hampshire on the Democrat side. It was his first step in filling the void when Gary Hart left the race in the Monkey Business fiasco.
New Hampshire has power well beyond its population size when it comes to presidential politics. If a candidate fails to make a strong showing in the Iowa Caucuses or New Hampshire Primary they are in trouble. The money and support starts to dry up.
Many states, including Florida and Nevada, have tried to challenge the power wielded by early states. States have been penalized by parties for moving up dates by having delegates taken away. Moves have also been countered by states moving their dates even earlier. The Iowa Caucuses takes place on Jan 3, 2012 this year.
States early in the process make no apologies. Most people I see interviewed from Iowa and New Hampshire have an entitlement attitude about their position. They expect candidates to grovel at their feet. And the candidates often do exactly that making trips to the states a year or two ahead of an election.
The upside to small states being in front of the process is less known candidates have more of a chance to rise to prominence. It does not take as much money to make a name in Iowa as it does to try and get out in all of the large media markets that make up California.
The downside is that candidates are often pushed on issues that may not matter to most of the country. Farm subsidies and ethanol are big issues for Iowa. Iowa is also Bible Belt country and social issues get more play. This cannot help but shape national policy as candidates are pushed around by the voting public.
Alaska would benefit greatly if it had an early primary. First, candidates might actually come to the state. When they came, they would spend money and be an economic stimulus.
Candidates would have to talk about issues like ANWR and commercial fishing. The "bridge to nowhere" may be an accurate moniker but with an early Alaska primary it is a moniker many candidates would not use.
New Hampshire tried to pass a law this year to exclude out of state students from registering to vote. The bill did not pass but it does speak to the arrogance of the state in protecting its place.
At the Alaska Federation of Natives conference this week there were calls for Native Alaskans to not affiliate with a political party. The plan is they can vote for whoever represents them best.
It sounds reasonable but it also has a downside.
More than one Democrat revealed plans to me during the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial primary to change affiliation so they could vote on the Republican ballot. The plan was to make The Palin the candidate and get rid of Frank Murkowski. The feeling was The Palin would be easy prey for Tony Knowles. They should have been more careful with their wishes.
It shows that inside a primary system people can use the law for devious purposes. What if Native Alaskan leaders used their block to defeat someone in a primary by voting for someone they thought would be easier to beat. It sounds less reasonable.
States should have power over their elections. That said, the policies of states with earlier primaries have direct effects on the State of Alaska.
It puts a different light on New Hampshire's arrogance. Some citizens of the Granite State did not want a bunch of Californians at Dartmouth swaying the elections. It is not unreasonable for a party to have the same desire. Why should USC pick who plays quarterback for Notre Dame?
"Live Free or Die," may be the best state slogan but should that freedom include determing who the rest of the country gets as a president? And even worse, should it guide where the debate is emphasized?
The dirty little secret is that Iowa, New Hampshire and other states have become special interests. They do not dominate national policy but the effects cannot be denied. It goes well beyond a single candidate being endorsed by a single state.
It is understandable that many states are unhappy with the system. It is no different than when people complain about the influence of corporations or labor unions.
It is not a new issue. It is not a new problem. It is one that runs for the cover of tradition. It may be overstating the obvious but it needs to change.