Jennifer L. Grubbs: The campaign that never could have been
November 4, 2008
Elections have a funny way of bringing out the best and worst in people.
The best shows through when people give up part of their day to stand in line to vote, or a whole day to serve as an election judge.
The worst pops up when you hear about scams to stop voters from showing up, or to rig elections, or to otherwise alter the results.
Sure, there are bound to be things that will go wrong with the election today. Sure, somewhere in the United States voter fraud will happen. Sure, some people will choose not to vote. Sure, we may not know the outcome of the election Wednesday, or Thursday or even Friday.
But we will get through this election.
It’s been more than a year and a half since it officially began with Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s presidential campaign announcement. (Remember him? Anyone?) Now we’re down to the last 12 hours.
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But instead of writing about the campaign that was, I want to write about the campaign that could have been.
Congress decides to make national rules for primary elections, such that no primary election would be held earlier than eight months before the general election. Also, Congress decides to close the 527 loophole in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform that allowed somewhat anonymous groups to run campaign ads that have no purpose other than to attack a candidate or issue. (They’re the ones that ask you call so-and-so and tell him or her something.) But not only do they do that, they also make pre-recorded “Robo-Calls” illegal. And finally, they put a limit on the time before an election that a candidate can declare that they are running for an election: the first day of the calendar year of the legal Election Day.
Now, it’s 2007.
No longer able to announce their presidential candidacy nearly two years in advance, ambitious politicians find other ways of making a name for themselves nationally, such as crafting legislation that actually helps the country, or by taking on issues bigger than steroids in baseball. Governors work with other governors on multi-state projects to get recognized in other states. A few politicians make big deals out of social issues, but the media calls them on it as a pre-candidacy-announcement stunt to get known nationally. While speculation builds in November and December in the media about who will be running for president, it’s still an unknown – nobody can formally announce candidacy.
Fast-forward to 2008.
Several candidates from both parties announce in January they’re running for president. A few names are more recognizable than others, but they all share the same stage in the first debates, Republicans and Democrats. At these debates, hard questions are asked and answered. Nobody gets away easy, and the moderator does not allow any candidate to avoid answering. The candidates and political parties did not get to make the rules.
In March, the primary elections and caucuses begin, with voters in New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina having the first say. No one drops out immediately afterward, instead choosing to stay in the race through the next round in two weeks. Four more states then vote, again with one state from different geographic areas of the U.S. After this, a few lesser candidates from each party drop out.
From there, primaries and caucuses are held on four more set dates in large groups, with a national lottery choosing which states vote or caucus when. The entire primary season ends by the end of May.
With nominees set, the candidates take off a couple of months from the election to rest up for the upcoming battle in the fall and to give the nation a break from politics. This allows them not to have to work as hard to raise money, but they also are able to put together the coalitions and forces on the ground to truly get out the vote in November.
In August, the two political parties hold conventions. There isn’t much change at these – other than the overwhelming number of people who watch them on TV because they aren’t sick of politics and haven’t been inundated with political ads and speeches for the last two months. The nominees are chosen officially, they accept, and party leaders give motivating and somewhat inspirational speeches (with a few attack-dog speeches thrown in – it can’t be avoided).
During the next 2 1/2 months, our TVs are flooded with campaign ads, but because of the absolute lack of anonymity of the donors, the ads are more truthful and substantive. Because of the shortened campaign season, more emphasis is put on why the candidates are right for the job, rather than why the other guy is a scumbag/terrorist/socialist/just-like-the-current-guy who would screw things up worse. Because of the no-call list regulation and prohibition against recorded “Robo-Calls,” our phones are much quieter. However, we’ll get more knocks on the door from the greater number of campaign workers, enlisted during the early summer campaign break. Sure, we’ll still get a bunch of campaign junk mail, but we’ll recycle it and help the environment. (Oh, who am I kidding?)
Then, on Election Day, :
Well, we’re back to today.
Too bad that wasn’t the campaign that was. And never will be.