By Regis L. Roberts
Talk of the primary season is dominating news coverage, and the outcome will decide who it is that the Democrats and Republicans will nominate as their party’s presidential candidate.
Political science Professor Christy Woodward-Kaupert said states vary in the way they conduct primaries and caucuses.
For example, she said Texas, which will have its primary March 4, does not require voters to be registered with the party to vote in that party’s primary and party affiliation is established when people vote.
Other states require voters to be registered with a party as a condition of voting, she said.
A caucus, which Kaupert described as a “very different animal” compared to a primary, is an open gathering of party members to determine policy and select candidates. Primaries, like election voting, are done by anonymous ballot.
Iowa, a caucus state, was the first state to have elections. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won their respective parties’ races.
Political science Professor Bill Byerly said the caucus system was more popular four decades ago.
The switch, Byerly said, was prompted by the popularity of anti-war candidates running against Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968.
Candidates like Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Robert Kennedy gained popularity by running in opposition to the Vietnam War and were winning primaries but not in caucus states, Byerly said.
The change to more primary states originated with a report released in 1970 by a commission led by McGovern.
The problem with caucuses, he said, is that they are peopled by party activists and do not always reflect popular opinion, which, in 1968, was moving against the war in Vietnam.
Indeed, political science Instructor Suzanne Martinez wondered what to call the kind of people who attend caucuses, pondering the term “political zealots,” then going with “political idealists” as a good way to demonstrate their enthusiasm for party politics.
“(Caucus voters) really believe in the democratic system to the extent that they are going to go argue with their neighbors, and a lot of people won’t do that,” Martinez said.
Moreover, a caucus requires those who are participating to gather together all at once, making them hard for people with disabilities and inflexible work schedules to attend, whereas primaries allow people to come and go to cast a ballot, she said.
Primaries, Byerly said, are more democratic in the sense of participation, but there has been a shift to an emphasis on the candidate who can run the most affective advertising campaign.
Advertising dollars hold sway now instead of the party bosses in the notorious “smoke-filled rooms,” he said.
The tricky part of presidential nominations comes when delegates are added to the process.
Once people vote, a meeting follows — precinct convention for Democrats and a caucus for Republicans — where delegates, or people chosen to represent the party, are selected at the precinct level, then county and finally state level to show up at their party’s respective conventions. The Democratic National Convention will start Aug. 25 in Denver and the Republican National Convention will start Sept. 1 in Minneapolis.
Delegates are broken up proportionally based on the outcome of the state primary. Therefore, if a candidate won 50 percent of the votes in the Texas primary, they would receive 50 percent of the delegate pledges for Texas during the national conventions.
Byerly said the number of delegates a state receives for the national convention is based on population.
For a candidate to win their party’s nomination, they must receive a simple majority of the delegates, which is 2,025 delegates of the Democrat’s 4,049 total delegates and 1,191 delegates for the 2,380 total delegates for the Republicans. Texas has 228 delegates for the Democrats and 140 for the Republicans, both about 17 percent of the total number of delegates at each convention.
Byerly said the idea of conventions has become antiquated, and the events are anticlimactic because the primary season has become so front-loaded, how the delegates pledge their votes is known well in advance.
The front-loading of primaries is one of the main criticisms about the way they are run.
The rush states go through to try to move closer to the new year makes it hard for small-name candidates to gain footing.
As a result of this rush, Byerly said, candidates are now starting their campaigns in the fall a year before an election.
This has caused trouble for Florida, which, in defiance of Democratic National Committee wishes, moved its primary to Tuesday.
The Democrats decided to strip Florida of its delegate representation at the convention. Florida was originally meant to have 29 delegates at the convention.
No matter what, as per tradition, Iowa and New Hampshire are always the first states to have a say.
This is also a bone of contention between party operatives and local activists.