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A scary thought: Halloween primary

Published February 20, 2007


We need to choose our presidential candidates more like American Idol chooses its finalists.

No, really.

American Idol travels all over the nation to produce an interesting crop of qualified contenders.

Only then do those candidates get together for more rounds of competition, tougher and tougher, until a national winner is chosen.

We can quibble over whether "the best" candidate always wins. I can't believe that Taylor Hicks guy beat Katharine McPhee. Man, can she sing Over the Rainbow.

But in general the system works great. It's fun, interesting, and it captivates the entire nation. A lot more people know of Taylor Hicks than, say, Mitt Romney.

Compare this process to the way that America's political parties choose their presidential candidates. They simply ship them off to ...


New Hampshire.

South Carolina.

And that's it. Game over. Those states vote and knock out most of the candidates, no matter how qualified. Not much choice remains for the rest of us.

South Carolina Idol. Not quite the same ring to it.

We ought to change it. But how?

From time to time, other states try to horn in on this early action, which is what Florida is considering now.

Florida is thinking about moving its primary from March back to late January or early February.

The hope is that if Florida votes while the campaign is still wide open, our state will get a lot more attention.

Candidates will spend a lot of time here. They will kiss our suntanned patooties. They will drink orange juice and wear mouse ears, and promise not to drill for oil in the gulf.

Well, maybe.

On the other hand, maybe not. It wouldn't do us much good if other states moved their elections earlier too.

Already, South Carolina has threatened to retaliate if Florida tries to cut in line.

"There is no date too early for South Carolina," that state's Republican chairman warned. "We could calendar it to Halloween if we needed to."

Halloween! Yikes. The thought of campaign commercials running between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and politicians crawling all over Florida for a year in advance, is depressing.

Besides, Iowa and New Hampshire would still have an advantage that Florida doesn't: A reasonable size.

You can still win in those states by local organization, hard work, shaking hands and standing in front of tough audiences. So at least winning in those states proves something.

Florida is the opposite. The only way you can win in Florida is by raising millions of dollars and buying TV ads.

In other words, Florida only exaggerates everything superficial and money-grubbing about our political process.

I wish we wouldn't do it, but I doubt Florida will be able to restrain itself. We will join the race and South Carolina will retaliate. Even the threats of the national parties won't do any good.

So to save us from Halloween elections, here's hoping that Congress or the national parties come up with a broader, more interesting and more evenly paced process of choosing their nominees, to save us from ourselves.

For starters, we could let Simon Cowell moderate the debates ...

[Last modified February 20, 2007, 06:15:45]

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