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Fix the primaries now for 2008

Editorial

It's time to make the nominating process more rational and fair

It will come as no surprise watchers of politics that Oregon's May 18 primary will not draw national attention or many visits from presidential hopefuls. President Bush is running unopposed for his party's nomination, and Sen. John Kerry already has the Democratic nomination sewn up.

It was not always thus. Time was, Oregon was a front-runner among states holding presidential primaries, and candidates visited early in election years. Over the past few decades, more and more states moved their primaries earlier in order to play more of a role in selecting the nominees, and Oregon's contest now is among the later elections.

The National Association of Secretaries of State has crafted a proposed system of regional primaries to change that. We think it's high time to consider such a plan, although we have some reservations about the details.

Presidential elections are the only national contest that involves every voter in the country who wants to participate. The November election has its own drawbacks, mainly because results are announced in the East before polls close in the West. But that's a debate for another time.

Under the NASS plan, the states would be grouped in four regions ' East, Midwest, South and West. States in each region would hold primaries on one of four dates, in March, April, May and June. Every four years, the regions would rotate, with the region that voted last in the previous election taking the first slot.

Candidates would be relieved of the need to crisscross the country to campaign in far-flung states. Voters in more states would get a chance to see candidates up close. And more states would be players in a democratic system that is a model for the world.

— Where we differ from the NASS is in their reluctance break completely with the way we've always done things. They propose that Iowa and New Hampshire would still hold the first nominating contests, in a nod to their tradition of encouraging 'retail' politics.

The sentiment is fine, but why should those two states have that privilege over any others?

The only reason they encourage retail politics is because they hold their contests so early, and they get the candidates' undivided attention. As a result they have influence ' or perceived influence ' far in excess of their population. Better to group them with their respective regions, where they would have the same chance at being first as the other states in their group.

This proposal would have to be adopted by the political parties' national conventions, which were unable to reach consensus when they took up the proposal in 2000. The NASS hopes to get the plan ratified at this year's conventions so that it can be implemented in 2008.

We're all for it. It's time to impose some order and fairness to a process that has been haphazard for far too long.