THE public may be appalled that the media are so saturated with presidential candidates this far in advance of next year's election. That's bad enough, but what is worse is that just about the time most of us start paying attention, the race for the major party nominations probably will be over. That's because there will be something like a national primary on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
The final lineup isn't complete, but more than half of all convention delegates will be chosen that day. The electoral-vote-rich states of California, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and a host of smaller ones, will all vote that day. Unless a close split occurs, we are apt to know the nominees of both parties the next morning.
Even if they haven't mathematically clinched the nominations, money will pour into the coffers of the big winners starting Feb. 6, and campaign contributions for the rest will slow to a trickle overnight. By the time Ohio holds its March 4 primary, the races are almost certain to be settled. So what if something happens to change the voters' minds in April?
Well, that will be just too bad, and we'll be stuck. This is not the best conceivable way to choose candidates for president. In the old days, there were fewer primaries spaced further apart, which enabled voters to get a good long look at all the candidates under pressure. Robert Kennedy did not even decide to get into the race until mid-March, 1968, and still might well have won the nomination if he hadn't been murdered after the California primary.
Here's a suggestion for a better way: Have the parties divide the different states into four regional groups, north, south, east, and west. One region would hold primaries and caucuses the first week in February. The next would go in March, then April, and finally May. The order in which they vote would change every election year. That would give the entire nation a chance to learn about the candidates and give all voters and regions an equal chance to make a difference.
This may not be the best possible system, but it beats what we have now. To add to the farce, Michigan and Florida are now attempting to move their primaries up to Jan. 29, even though they risk losing half their convention delegates by doing so. They are willing to chance that in return for playing an earlier and conceivably bigger role in choosing the nominees.
The system is broken, and something new needs to be tried before our presidential nomination process degenerates into political anarchy.
Or else, we may wake up one day in the not too distant future to find that some state has decided to hold its 2012 primary two days after the 2008 election.