Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Stephen Owens votes during Florida primary Sept. 5, 2006. States are setting ever-earlier primaries.

What's that you say? Both men are deceased? Well, yes, if you want to get technical. But what else could the parties do? Key states kept falling over each other to see who could stage the earliest primary. They finally had to resort to using time machines to keep moving things up. New Hampshire has that law, you know — the one that says its primary has to be at least seven days before anyone else's. The constant leapfrogging by Florida, South Carolina, Wyoming and others just set everything into a kind of perpetual motion.


Perhaps, but think how absurd the current fight to be first appears, and think of the possible consequences.

Time was when Utah thought it was being forward-thinking by organizing a Western states primary on Feb. 5. Now, that date has turned into a super Tuesday, with several states holding primaries. Meanwhile, Wyoming has scheduled nominating conventions on Jan. 5, Michigan has a Republican primary on Jan. 15, and New Hampshire is threatening to stage its show sometime before Santa Claus makes his 2007 goodie run.

A lot of potential problems could come from this. Yes, there is the chance that, heaven forbid, a candidate will expire before the big day. But illness, accident, disability and death are among the more remote concerns.

It's far more likely that events could intervene to change the election landscape. Suppose your state holds an early primary, and a few months later a war breaks out or the economy takes a drastic turn. To put it differently, would you feel the same about the current field of candidates if President Bush launched an attack on Iran, if he suddenly brought a successful conclusion to the war in Iraq, if the economy nose-dived into a recession or if Wall Street took off on a record run that spread profits all around?

Would a candidate's strengths and weaknesses look different with a different backdrop? What if a scandal is uncovered involving the nominee?

Of course, there are no guarantees things won't change drastically from an August convention until Election Day, and of course each president faces uncertain events while in office. But voters should have the benefit of choosing a person they feel is right for the times.

The major political parties are the only ones with effective brakes for this runaway train. Already, Republicans are thinking about stripping the early states of delegates. Democrats already did so to Florida. Incredibly, that hasn't slowed things much.

Of course it would have been absurd for people 100 years ago to chose today's leaders. But it isn't a whole lot better for people to do so a year early. In fact, it's a crazy way to run a republic.