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« Survivor: Pennsylvania Avenue | Main | When Local Politics Is National »

June 06, 2008

Did the Calendar Doom Clinton?

posted by Josh Goodman

Who can Hillary Clinton blame for her defeat? Michael McDonald of the Brookings Institution says that it's those pesky state legislators and state party officials who came up with the primary schedule:

If states had not moved up or “frontloaded” the date of their primaries and caucuses, under the misimpression that doing so would give them a greater voice in the 2008 nomination, Clinton might be the Democratic nominee.

She would have received more delegates from Florida and Michigan, two states that she would have likely won if all Democratic candidates had vigorously campaigned, but was denied a full slate because these states violated party rules by holding their elections too early. Counting these contests was important for her delegate count and to her argument that she had won more popular votes than Obama.

If states had not frontloaded their primaries and caucuses, she would have recovered from her early stumbles before it was too late. She would have minimized damage from her disastrous February, when Obama racked up an impressive string of victories even in Virginia, where she might have done better given her later strength.

(Hat tip: Election Law Blog)

I don't completely buy this argument. Obama might have won Michigan if his name had appeared on the ballot and he'd been able to campaign. More broadly, the Democratic nomination campaign was, to a significant, impervious to momentum.

Still, the point that McDonald is making -- that the nominating schedule matters (and not just to whether the candidates talk about ethanol or Yucca Mountain) -- is a good one. Would John McCain be where is today if South Carolina and New Hampshire had switched places in the calendar? 


Josh Putnam

Rules do matter. But it isn't as simple as saying that the calendar brought Clinton down. Was it a contributing factor? Yes, but states holding caucuses and not primaries hurt her as well. ...among other things.

The competitiveness of this nomination race has certainly put the spotlight on all of the rules. Sequencing seems to be at the top of everyone's list of things to reexamine. What other options are available and being considered for altering the primary calendar in future cycles? We've examined this over at Frontloading HQ to some extent. Here is a look at those options,including the Ohio Plan that the GOP will consider at its convention this summer:

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