The American process of picking the parties’ presidential candidates is about to shift into a much higher gear.
After the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10, the battle for the Republican nomination shifts southward, to primaries Jan. 21 in South Carolina and Jan. 31 in Florida.
Until now, the person-to-person “retail” campaign in the smaller states like Iowa and New Hampshire will shift to the “wholesale” campaigning necessary in the more populous states, and particularly as the race spreads to more state contests on the same day.
To understand the differences between campaigning in those smaller states and larger ones later, note that in 2008 in Iowa, 119,188 voters showed up for the Republican caucuses. The vote in the 2008 Republican presidential primary just in Harris County, where Houston is located, was 169,488, or 42 percent more.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent the last three weeks crisscrossing Iowa on bus tours, while spending millions on TV ads, and probably outspending each of the other candidates as he goes all in.
Libertarian-oriented Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has been doing likewise, plus having arguably the best on-the-ground organization of dedicated believers. However, as he’s risen in the polls, other candidates are taking more shots at him, and particularly his not-our-job foreign policy approach.
Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum has made almost a fetish of campaigning in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. It’s apparently finally paying off with rising poll numbers, as Iowa’s evangelical conservatives become more aware of drawbacks of some of the other candidates.
Newt Gingrich had enjoyed a large rise in recent weeks, but like Paul, the higher he got, the more shots he took. And unlike Perry, Paul and Mitt Romney, Gingrich’s limited funds have kept him from being more aggressive with TV ads.
You may wonder: why are these campaigns fought out in such small states? Why not in populous places like Texas?
After all, Iowa has just four members of the U.S House of Representatives (in 2012 elections), which are awarded to states on the basis of population. New Hampshire has two. Texas has 36, or six times the number of House members of Iowa and New Hampshire combined.
Backers say the small-state start is beneficial because it requires presidential candidates to actually get out and look voters in the eye, and let folks take their measure. And, it can give candidates who aren’t well-known the opportunity to become so, as happened with Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In a state the size of Texas, that degree of close contact isn’t possible. It takes TV ads, which with 18 to 21 media markets including two of the nation’s top ten, that costs several million dollars. (Although social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are cheaper and possibly more personal alternatives).
Another reason for the small-state start is that Iowa and New Hampshire have jealously guarded their early status. Not only do they get a chance to put their mark on the presidential selection process, it’s also a boost to their economies.
Every four years, revenues from TV ad sales, lodging and restaurants for candidates, staffers, and journalists is a nice windfall.
Early-state status also can affect policy. Some say that federal subsidies for ethanol, a gasoline additive that can be made from corn, continue due to campaign promises made by presidential candidates every four years to corn-growing Iowans.
By March 5, an even dozen states will have had their primaries or caucuses. But on March 6, so-called super Tuesday, the campaigns spread out, and truly test their campaign coffers and organizations.
Eleven states vote that day. (Wyoming’s caucus starts March 6 and lasts through March 10.) There would have been an even dozen states had Texas’ primary schedule not been thrown off track by federal courts reviewing the redistricting maps drawn last year by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature.
Minorities and Democrats had challenged the maps as undercutting minority clout in choosing representatives, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Texas’ primary now is set for April 3, a date jointly selected by the state’s Democratic and Republican Parties. But local election officials say that doesn’t give them enough time to prepare. It’s possible the courts could move the primary date yet again.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the Texas redistricting mess on Monday, Jan. 9. And a trial is scheduled for Jan. 17-26 before a three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, the scramble among the Republican presidential candidates, perhaps thinned down a bit by then, will continue – while Democratic President Barack Obama waits to see which of them he’ll face in November. DAVE McNEELY is political columnist. You may contact him at email@example.com or (512)458-2963.