BUFFALO, NY - As sure as the Iowa Caucuses come up every four years, so does a question.
Why not let the residents of bigger, more diverse states have first crack at whittling down the field of candidates?
Why not a state like….New York, for instance?
“It just flabbergasts me that, give or take 25,000… 150,000 people in the Republican Party are going to have that massive of a say that is going to dictate the rest of this race, or at least the first steps in it,” said Erie County Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
While noting New York’s population dwarfs that of Iowa and New Hampshire, it can also be said the diversity of the state’s population, its economic base, and thus its workforce…even its geography, is more reflective of the nation as a whole.
“Diversity is really the traditional strength of our party,” said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner. “So, to have the first caucus in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire is not really reflective of our party’s values.”
Yet tradition holds that Iowa and New Hampshire go first, and thus the political fortunes of some candidates remain largely made or broken there.
“Our primary (in April) will be the 33rd held in the nation this time,” said Langworthy. “It’s very disappointing.”
“It's crazy,” said Buffalo based republican political strategist Michael R. Caputo. “There are a lot of us who have cried about this for years but we've never been able to change anything.”
“The parties - both democrat and republican - have protected little Iowa and little New Hampshire and their ‘we go first roles’,” said Canisius College Political Science Professor Kevin Hardwick, who is also a republican in the Erie County Legislature.
“I actually advocated inside our state committee that we move our primary as early as possible in the process,” said Langworthy. But for starters, he noted that to do so would take something that – at times – seems almost as monumental as moving heaven and earth.
“Just like everything else when it comes to the government in this great state of ours, you’d have to have an agreement between the state assembly, the state senate, and the Governor on a primary date for the federal for the federal presidential election. That’s not such an easy task,” Langworthy said.
And even were that mountain to be moved, a more daunting hill would be waiting, if New York said “tradition be damned” and just tried to push its way to the front.
And woe be to those states whose party members might try and flaunt the rules set down by their national leadership.
“Back a few years ago (in 2008), Florida tried to move up its primary before the party said they could move it up, and the (Democratic) party stripped them of half their delegates,” recalled Hardwick.
Caputo remembers that Republicans also imposed punitive measures upon Florida delegates in 2012, when the state’s GOP rebuked the party calendar, and held its primary in late January.
“I lived there when Florida tried it…and then we could not get our delegates seated at the Republican National Convention.” And though Florida was hosting the convention, Caputo remembers that, “the hotels we got for the convention (in Tampa) were 50 miles away, and as for the tickets we got for the convention were ….well, it was like we were at the kids’ table.”
“They can play hardball,” concurred Hardwick. “They're very good at it at the national committees.”
“It’s tradition,” said Caputo. “And it’s as simple and as silly as that.”
But others hold that the tradition of having the first primaries and caucuses in smaller states allows upstart candidates at least the chance to stay competitive, and prove themselves before getting to the larger states which might ordinarily fall to only the best funded candidates.
“Follow the money,” said Bruce Fisher, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College and a former Deputy Erie County Executive.
Fisher, who has a deep history of running political campaigns (including working on President Clinton's 1992 run for the Oval Office as well as senatorial campaigns for Joseph Biden in 1987 and Paul Simon in 1984) noted that by allowing Iowa and New Hampshire to remain first, it helps keep the costs down in the early going. This would be especially true in terms of a media advertising, which in a more populous state would be vastly more expensive.
“You (initially) don’t want to have all the resources of your party and your candidates and donors going into massively expensive campaigns in huge states where you have to gets tens of millions of voters organized,” said Fisher.
Speaking of money, Iowa stands to reap a great windfall from being first.
“There’s no doubt,” said Caputo. “They even budget for it in their state’s finances.”
With all those campaigns and their operatives having been on the ground for weeks, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants, not to mention the hordes of media that have camped out in the Hawkeye State, the impact on Iowa’s economy is estimated by some to be in the millions of dollars.
That’s another reason some believe New York should try and hold its primary earlier.
“I mean there’s a new category called ‘political tourism’, where people travel, not really to help candidates but just to go be around it,” said Langworthy. “It’s a Super Bowl like atmosphere for political junkies…and we (New Yorkers) have to be just spectators in a lot of this,” he said.