Like it or not, modern presidential campaigns are all about raising money and using the media, and I suspect we're better off setting up a system that's most likely to choose a candidate who can win a modern election. That means someone who's demonstrated the ability to win in a big, impersonal state like California, not someone who's demonstrated the ability to hold the most coffee klatsches in a single day.
Mojo has been pretty skeptical about the value of moving primary dates around in the hopes of generating an UberDemocrat that will sweep away GOP resistance. I agree with that sentiment, I have yet to see a compelling argument that provides a specific calendar of primaries that is going to produce a better quality candidate. Most of these arguments are full of assumptions about primary voters that do not really seem to hold water to me.
However, I am not in love with the current calendar of primaries either. It seems reasonable to me to at least examine the primary calendar to see if we are actually giving a broad spectrum primary voters an opportunity to vote on the candidates they want. I also do not think it is unreasonable to object to the apparent outweighted voice Iowas caucus and New Hampshire voters seem to exert as the result of their arbitrary position on the calendar.
My preference would be to divide the country into regions and rotate their position on the calendar. I don't know if that would result in better candidates, but it seems more fair to primary voters outside of New England of both parties. Kevin's comment reminded me of an episode of the West Wing where the GOP candidate, Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda, makes a pretty good point about California:
[...]This isnÂt some sentimental, home-state thing. This is about winning. I donÂt have a 50-state strategy anymore. I have a one-state strategy: the one state that has everything Â big cities, small towns, mountains, deserts, farms, factories, fishermen, surfers, all races, all religions, gay, straight Â everything this country has. ThereÂs more real America in California than anywhere else. If I can win California, I can win the Country.
He's right of course, and this is largely at odds with the conventional wisdom among pols and pundits in Washington, who dismiss California as a Blue state of hippies and dope fiends completely devoid of GOP voters. It certainly has plenty of hippies and fiends, but has a large pool of conservative and right leaning voters who would respond to a strong republican candidate that spent the time and money to court them. The editors at the wire all spent consideable time in the O.C. in their youth, and know the right wing GOP nuthouse this state can be. It is the great fallacy of the Bush strategy that states like California and the potential competiveness of the state in the general election is ignored and the GOP's long terms chances in the state risked for short term gains and for racist whackiness like the talk radio driven issue of illegal immigration.
Yes California is expensive and big, but it has wide range of voters that would better represent the electorate of both parties than Iowa or New Hampshire. That should at least be a factor in any primary change plan. Will it yield better candidates? It might yield different candidates, but who knows if they will be better in some quantifiable way. There is no silver bullet for better candidates, and reworking the primary calendar to that end seems silly, but that does not mean there is not other debatable reasons to change it.