The DNC's Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling met today, and the topics including that old chestnut, whether to allow Iowa and New Hampshire to continue casting the first votes in the Presidential nominating campaign. It's worth pondering whether those two states should retain the privilege of exerting disproportionate influence over determining the presidential nominees, especially since many arguments can be made that those states tend to favor Democratic candidates who aren't the best nominees for a nationally competetive ticket. But the problem for Democrats isn't just the first two states that vote. In the 2004 cycle, it was the entire schedule, with the Democratic nomination determined mostly by heavily Republican states or Democratic-leaning states where, because they used a caucus system, only a tiny fraction of that state's voters decided the election.
Kerry sealed his nomination on March 2nd, Super Tuesday, when voters in ten states, accounting for 166 electoral votes, cast their ballots. In November, Kerry won 8 of those ten states, including Democratic bastions like CA, NY, MD and almost all of New England. The only Super Tuesday states he lost in November were Ohio and Georgia. 131 of Kerry's 251 electoral votes came from states that voted on Super Tuesday.
But the nomination battle was really over by that point. Kucinich and Sharpton were still hanging around, but by March 2 Gephardt, Lieberman, Clark and Dean had all dropped out of the contest, with only John Edwards still staggering along in his audition for the VP slot. By Super Tuesday, 19 states and the District of Columbia had already determined how their delegates would be allocated to the candidates at the national convention. Those states accounted for slightly fewer electoral votes than the cumulative total of the Super Tuesday states: 144. But unlike the overwhelmingly Democratic states that voted on Super Tuesday, these states leaned much more Republican. Of the first 9 states to vote (IA, NH, AZ, DE, MO, NM, ND, OK and SC, with a combined 58 EV), 7 went to Bush (51 EV) and only 2 (7EV) went to Kerry. The next three states to vote (MI, WA and ME) were all competitive states won by Kerry. However, each had a caucus rather than a primary, so the number of voters who determined those contests was very small. In fact, if you combine the total vote cast in MI, WA adn ME, and even toss in the total votes cast in the DC caucus, the number of votes cast (207,197) in these states that accounted for 34 of Kerry's EV's was fewer than the votes cast in just the New Hampshire primary (219,787). Prior to Super Tuesday, the only states that were highly competetive in November that conducted Democratic primaries were NH and WI.
The 2004 primary schedule gave heavy early influence to voters in many states that voted for Bush by solid margins, where the process limited the number of participants, or where a competetive state (like NH, IA, NM, NV and WI) had an African-American population far below the national average. It's not clear that the order of states that cast their votes after Iowa and New Hampshire greatly affected the results of the nomination battle, but in a more wide-open and drawn-out contest, it could have made a big difference. Let's hope that nomination commission thinks about more than just the first two states to vote when it thinks about the potential impact on the entire nomination campaign, let's hope it gives consideration to what should be the first twenty to vote on chosing 2008 Democratic nominee for president.