ix THE MICHIGAN DAILY Tuesday, June 22, 1976
Primaries: Political puzzle
WASHINGTON (A:" - The presidential
primary has joined the electoral college
as one of those institutions roundly con-
demned every fousr years as a mess and
then not mentioned again for another
'I think these primaries are demean-
ing," Senate Majority Leader Mike Mans-
field observed at the conclusion of the
1976 primary season. "I think they are
MANSFIELD HAS said all along he
prefers one big national primary or a
series of regional primaries to the cur-
rent hodge-podge stretching from Feb-
ruary to June with the rules changing
from state to-state.
But Mansfield concedes Congress is
unlikely to do anything about it this year.
Like the electoral c o 11 e g e, nobody
thinks much about primaries except in
election years, and it's hard to accom-
plish much reform t sotething so po-
With 32 states holding some kind of
primary, this year broke the record of
26 set in 1916 when reformers of the Pro-
gressive Era invented the primary as a
way to beat the backroom boys.
ity contests. Others use the results of the
straw votes to apportion convention dele-
gates. Others elect delegates directly
with no vote for presidential preference.
Still others do both at the same time.
Candidates often win big in the popular
vote and get few or no delegates, or the
other way around. So, who's the winner?
Most candidates choose their prima-
ries, entering where they must or where
their chances are best. This can pre-
vent a clear choice between the major
contenders, who often deliberately avoid
SOME STATES avoid this by putting
every possible candidate on the ballot,
but this can backfire by keeping long-
defunct candidates on the ballot just
when the choice is beginning to narrow.
In addition, the primaries now are con-
fusing, strung out and far removed from
the actual election of the president.
Although the primaries are intended to
let the people-not the polls-picks the
nominees, only a tiny minority of the
country's eligible voters t a k e s part-
about 17 per cent this year.
Highly motivated minority groups, po-
litical activists and people with axes to
grind vote while the average person
On the other hand, the candidate who
pitches to a particular constituency on
the right or left in order to win prima-
ries and nominations often gets clob-
bered in the fall when the rest of the
electorate turns out. For example, take
Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and
Democrat McGovern in 1972.
Then there is the argument that pri-
maries force candidates to go to the
people and talk about the issues. Arizona
Rep. Morris Udall, who is a distant sec-
ond to Carter in delegates, has made this
argument. He has complained, though,
that it just isn't working that way in the
primaries as they are currently con-
The problem from the Democratic side
was the crowded field. Primaries don't
encourage discussion of the issues when
the average voter can't know the players,
much less their stands on the issues.
SARGENT SHRIVER, one of the first
to be eliminated from the ranks of Demo-
cratic candidates, left with a blast at
the primaries as providing nothing but
"pablum for the mind and puff for the
Udall is one of several congressmen
who have introduced bills which would
institute a series of regional primaries
run on common rules.
But all such measures introduced in
the House have been bottled up by
Chairman Wayne Hays of the Adminis-
tration Committee. In the Senate, the
Rules Committee is stalling the action.
However, in endorsing reform again
last week, Mansfield mentioned a bill by
Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) which
seems to be the most popular version.
THE MONDALE bill would create a
series of six regional primaries. States
would not be required to hold primaries,
but if they did, they would have to do it
on the same date as other states in
There would be a two-week interval
between each regional primary, but Mon-
dale contends his plan would cut four
months from the current exhausting
primary season. Both President Ford
and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott
have endorsed this approach.
The Mondale bill also would clear up
some other problems. It would require
states to put the names of the presiden-
tial candidates on the ballot. And it
would prevent crossover voting; that is,
Democrats would have to vote in their
own primary and Republicans in theirs.
THE REGIONAL or national primary
would do nothing about the difficulty of
ALTHOUGH Republican presidential
candidate Ronald Reagan was 103 dele-
gates behind President Ford on June 9
following the end of the long primary
season, he picked up 17 of the 19 dele-
gates selected June 12 by Republicans
in Missouri, and trimmed 17 more dele-
gates from Ford's lead this past week-
end in GOP conventions and caucuses
in five states.
winnowing the field more effectively.
The best way to do this would be a run-
off provision to clear out the crowd and
give the voters a clearer choice before
the final decision was made.
Totally impractical with 32 states hal,
ing independent primaries, runoffs omighst
be feasible with a half-dozen or fewer
primaries. But this is receiving no ser-
ious consideration. Alabama is the tast
state currently providing a runoff, rnd
this applies only to the delegate por ,a
of the primary.
Regional primaries would solve some
problems, but could cause trouble in
other areas. They would harm, for ex-
ample, the chances of little-known can-
didates who use the months of campaign-
ing and public exposure to gain recog-
nition and support, as Carter did this
BEGINNING WITH THE New Hampshire primary, the liberals in the Democrat
presidential race had a greater combined vote in several primaries than front-
runner Jimmy Carter, and any of them running alone probably would have
beaten him. But Carter, who was closer to the middle politically, benefitted from
opponents who took votes from each other.
THE REVIVAL in recent years traces
chiefly to the reform movement within
the major political parties, especially
States are not required to hold presi-
dential primaries to pick or instruct
national convention delegates. But many
states have concluded they are the
easiest way to avoid running afoul of
party reforyn rules or inviting credentials
challenges at the convention.
There is generai agreement that the
primaries are accomplishing their major
purpose. They are harder to rig than
caucuses or conventions. They take pres-
idential nominating to a large degree out
of the smoke-filled rooms and put it in
the hands of the voters.
But there are drawbacks. In the first
place the number of primaries and the
necessity to campaign in as many of
them as possible places a tremendous
burden on the funds and health of the
THE MUDDLE which comes from dif-
ferent rules and different meaning of
the results from state to state confuses
voters and candidates alike.
Some states hold presidential popular-
stays home. Consequently, the minority
holds an inordinate sway over the nomi-
CERTAIN STATES, by virtue of the
time of their contest along the primary
trail, gain political clout far beyond any
rational relation to their size in votes or
Delegates also help cull crowded fields
of candidates, as they did for the Demo-
crats this year. But critics say the illogic
of the system sometimes sorts out the
If there are a lot of "middle-ground"
candidates, the primary system favors
the liberal or conservative with a moti-
vated minority constituency. George Mc-
Govern in 1972 is a good case in point.
But if there are a lot of liberals, as
there were this year in the Democratic
field, then the candidate closer to the
middle benefits from opponents who take
votes from each other.
BEGINNING with New Hampshire, the
liberals had a greater combined vote in
several primaries than Jimmy Carter,
and any one of them running alone prob-
ably would have beaten him.
Doily Photo by SCOTT ECCKER
PRESIDENT GERALD FORD, who holds a slight lead in the race for the
Republican nomination, supports Sen. Walter Mondale's (D-Minn.) primary
reform bill which would create a series of six regional primaries. There would
be a two-week interval between each regional primary, but Mondale contends
his plan would cut four months from the primary season.