Influence the presidential race? Try moving to Iowa

November 25, 2007|By PAUL WEST | PAUL WEST,WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

When Arthur Bremer walked out of a Maryland prison earlier this month, it was a history lesson in more ways than one. It was, foremost, a reminder of an unusually violent period in late 20th-century American politics.

Lost in the news of Bremer's release was another story, which may come as a surprise to many Marylanders. It was about Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace's other campaign stops in the state, before Bremer shot him in the Laurel Shopping Center. In Hagerstown, police were called in after protesters disrupted his speech. At the University of Maryland, students threw Popsicles. In Frederick, a tossed brick struck the candidate. At a Wheaton shopping center, hours before Laurel, eggs and tomatoes were lobbed as Wallace spoke, according to press reports at the time.

That's a rough contrast to today's tamer politics. But what's also striking is that candidates were campaigning hard for primary votes across Maryland. On the day Wallace was shot, Sen. George S. McGovern held a rally in Cumberland, and Hubert H. Humphrey spoke in Baltimore. The next day, May 16, was primary day; Wallace won.

Four years later, the state again drew national attention when Maryland Democrats gave California Gov. Jerry Brown his first primary victory over Jimmy Carter. As Michael Barone noted in the Almanac of American Politics, 1984, "Because of its late filing date, [Maryland] has been the beginning of a kind of second round of contests," though "by the time the candidates reached Maryland, it was already pretty apparent who was going to win; people could vote freely for any oddball candidate, and not worry that he might win the nomination itself. It has become a primary, then, for sending a message, not for selecting a presidential candidate."

Actually, by the early 1980s, Maryland was already fading as a factor, bypassed by candidates and ignored by the national news media. In 1988, the state advanced the primary to "Super Tuesday," in early March, but larger states got all the attention. Four years later, Maryland leapfrogged to the week before Super Tuesday. The ploy was semi-successful. Democratic candidate Paul E. Tsongas won Maryland, his first primary victory outside New England, defeating Bill Clinton (who began finishing Tsongas off a week later). State Republican voters got some unexpected in-person campaign attention from Bob Dole, on his way to defeating Patrick J. Buchanan in Maryland's primary in 1996, a year they expected to be overlooked.

This time, in yet another stab at relevance, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley persuaded the General Assembly to move the presidential primaries of both parties to Feb. 12, the earliest date ever.

Despite the change, the state is back where it was in the '80s - blocked again. One week earlier is "Tsunami Tuesday," the largest, earliest primary day in history. By the time Maryland votes, 60 percent of the national convention delegates in both parties will have been chosen, and the nominees of both parties will likely be known.

That's why candidates are putting their time and money elsewhere, into the January primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan and Florida, where the real action is. They have neither the time nor the money to do anything else, in part because of the failure of the major parties to gain control of their own nomination calendars.

That effectively leaves voters in Maryland and many other states without a voice in choosing their party's nominee.

Contrast that with Iowa: Fully one of every three likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa has either personally spoken with or shaken the hand of a presidential candidate, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Eight in 10 say they've heard by phone from at least one of the campaigns. It's impossible to watch TV for more than a few minutes without seeing a campaign commercial, and a public event with a presidential candidate is never more than a short drive away.

For Maryland to matter, there would have to be no clear leader after the early contests and an even split after Feb. 5.

On the Democratic side, for instance, Hillary Rodham Clinton would have to lose Iowa and perhaps New Hampshire. Even then, if a head-to-head race developed between Clinton and one other candidate, the race would likely be over by Feb. 5, when most of the delegates will have been chosen. If there's a three-way contest, if John Edwards takes Iowa and Obama wins New Hampshire and Clinton remains competitive, the nomination could still be up for grabs when Maryland votes.

For Republicans, if Mike Huckabee were to ride support from religious conservatives to first place in Iowa and into the South, if Mitt Romney salvaged a victory in New Hampshire, next to his state of Massachusetts, and Rudy Giuliani remained a factor until Florida and into the Feb. 5 states, there might be enough of a free-for-all for the Free State to count.

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