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Regional Primaries Make Good Sense


Believe it or not, the method for choosing presidential candidates has improved over the years. In the old days when nominating conventions mattered, men in rumpled suits brokered deals among corrupt big-city political machines, sweating out their party’s ticket in hotel rooms littered with bottles, bimbos and cigarette butts.

This year, voters or caucus-goers in roughly half of the states actually had a chance to influence the choice.

But here in Washington, hardly anyone voted in our long-sought primary election. With good reason. The contest was over before it got here. And Idahoans can’t vote on presidential nominees until May 28.

This year’s presidential nominating campaign was compressed into 37 days of sound bites and mud. A handful of states had crowded to the front of the line like kids at a Popsicle stand, fighting for attention and a voice before the candidates ran out of money or momentum. A short history: Louisiana swamped Phil Gramm, Arizona knocked the wind out of Pat Buchanan, New York’s machine rolled over Steve Forbes, South Carolina saved Bob Dole who had it wired all along, and the other candidates self-destructed.

New Hampshire? It demonstrated, at last, the absurdity of the media-generated superstition that has treated one tiny, monocultural state as a weather vane for the nation.

Pointing to the minimal turnout for Washington’s primary election, some political insiders were quick to declare public participation a failure, and to call for a return to caucuses. But the political parties have never liked the thought of this state’s independent voters having a say in their nominating process. Never mind that broadening the selection process can help produce a more electable nominee and attract new loyalists to the parties.

The problem this year was not with the primary election method, it was with the ridiculous, pell-mell timing of the primary campaign.

Slade Gorton, Washington’s senior senator and a partisan whose GOP loyalties are beyond reproach, has introduced legislation to improve the schedule.

It makes some sense: Divide the states into four geographic regions. Hold regional primaries on four dates - the first Tuesdays of March, April, May and June - spread out to allow the campaigns time to mature and to focus on regional concerns. The four regions would rotate through those four dates, taking turns at the head of the line.

This wouldn’t end the possibility the race would end partway through the voting. But it would distribute decision making more fairly throughout the country. It’s time we chose presidential candidates in a manner that gives the office more of the dignity it deserves.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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