Imagine you're watching a basketball game when one team scores a two-point shot early in the first quarter, then runs off the court and holds a press conference. Amid whoops and hollers, the coaches announce how grateful they are for this early victory and urge their supporters to stick with them.
You'd think someone had slipped something into the Gatorade.
And yet, in effect, that's how the presidential campaign season is being presented to us, with one addition. To make the analogy complete, the coaches would be hoping the early basket would help them raise the money necessary to keep the players going until the end of the game.
Early last week, commentators were describing Barack Obama's campaign as surging in energy following the win in Iowa. People were openly making comparisons to Robert Kennedy in 1968 and even whispering about concerns for Obama's safety. Then came the reality of New Hampshire, and suddenly Obama looks more like Eugene McCarthy. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is described as desperately in need of a win, and John McCain, while maybe not a kid, has been said to have made a comeback.
In reality, one source has Romney leading the overall Republican delegate count, while Hillary Clinton has a sizeable lead on Obama. But other sources have it differently. Delegates are like water, fluid.
In short, we really don't know anything yet.
I understand the need for campaign momentum, which depends a lot on the media buzz that accompanies a primary victory (as well as a certain amount of gullibility on the part of many in the media who lack perspective). But the nation hasn't had such a wide-open presidential race in decades, and a lot of people seem confused by it all, with good reason.
Which brings me back to last Sunday's column. I asked for your suggestions for ways to conduct a more fair nomination process. I presented three current proposals: A single, nationwide primary held in every state on the same day; graduated primaries in which small states go first, grouped in random order; and rotating regional primaries, in which the nation is divided into four regions, which take turns going first.
Some of you wrote to express your overall dissatisfaction with the length of the presidential campaign or with the money needed to run for office. Those are issues that defy any meaningful solutions. We value free speech in this country, so you can't stop someone from campaigning early. And a campaign is going to need a lot of money to reach potential voters. Even if the Internet holds the promise of someday reducing those costs, spending limits are undemocratic.
Others of you supported one of the three proposals, with some variations.
Perhaps the most intriguing idea came from Stephen Rust of Centerville. He suggested a series of "blind" votes in each state, beginning in the East and working its way across the country. The official results would be kept secret until all 50 states had voted. "That way," he wrote, "no state's vote has any undue influence on the others ..."
Because the state elections would progress geographically, candidates could manage their travel expenses easier than in a same-day nationwide primary.
Rust admits there would be no way to keep the media from conducting exit polls to predict how the vote was going, but the outcome would remain largely in doubt until the momentous day when everything was tallied in public.
I would add that it would require some sort of fool-proof security system to keep anyone from tampering with ballots until the final day. In addition, such a system would keep little-known candidates from waging inexpensive campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping to gain enough grass-roots support to blossom into something big.
No plan would be perfect, but I'm impressed with the thoughtful ideas. Please send me more.And remember, try not to take every early basket too seriously.
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected]