By a less than authoritative source, me, Anthony Watkins
Back in the day, candidates often did not actually campaign the way we think of it today. They, more like people standing for members of parliament in other countries today, they worked within a political party, and when they had enough favors owed, they either went to ask party leaders for support or one of the leaders hand-picked them. They stood for election, and as an elected official, they either stayed put or moved up the system as there was room.
Today this still happens in America, but during the middle of the century a few states started having primaries to select the candidates, but after the 1960s, both parties had to open up a bit and let the voters pick, though usually the candidates were still pretty much party people. By the 1970s, the new system was allowing a lot of “outsider” candidates to come in and take the party new directions. Like Trump is taking the GOP this year.
To prevent the outsiders from tearing the party up, a party they had contributed nothing to, but used for their own ends as a free ride, in 1992, a system of super delegates was created so that the people who built and maintained the party, year after year, would have some control over who carried the party banner. This system still exists today. Whenever an outsider, as in this year, where a person who has never even been a Democrat, tries to challenge the system, not as an independent, but by trying to take over the party, the super delegates stand as security to make sure the outsider is not here to wreck the party.
The super delegates represent just under 20% of the vote, so they cannot derail an outsider who has the majority of the party behind him, but they can prevent a populist extremist from dominating a broad field without ever winning a majority. Again, think of Trump, not Bernie. Now the field is down to two, Bernie simply has to win the majority of the primaries today, or even win nearly half, and he stays alive, the longer he stays alive, the better chance he wins. That is exactly what happened to Obama in 2008.
The super delegates worked as designed. Hillary wins a close caucus, Bernie wins a nice tiny state and the field remains pretty even, though the supers make it look hard for Bernie. He has 51 delegates, she has 52. If he wins anywhere near 500 delegates today, Hillary is probably not only beatable, but beaten, and most of the super delegates will be with Bernie at the convention, in fact, by the end of April, Hillary would probably bow out. Bernie’s problem is not the super delegates; his problem is that Hillary is set to crush him today.
This is a concept that is thought to give the best candidate the best shot at shutting down the primary fight before the field is so bloodied with infighting that there is nothing left to fight for the general. This concept has its flaws on any levels, but is still popular with the parties.
A good primary fight can make a good candidate great and can show the weaknesses of a perceived strong candidate and allow a better candidate to win out. Front loading is a bit like helping the chick out of the egg. It feels good, but then you have a weaker chick who cannot survive the tough breaks of life.
This is an idea that gets bandied around especially by people who would like to either get to vote in a primary while there is still a race, or by people who wish the broader base of the party, spread out over 50 states could have a real voice in the candidate nomination process. The problem is that the primary is supposed to introduce a candidate to the voters and the voters to the candidate. With the current system, the idea is that small states reward “retail politics” not bill boards and TV ads, but meetings in town halls, cafes, kitchen tables, and church basements.
The idea is if Joe X looks a few thousand people in the eye, shakes their hands, makes his pitch, listens to them, he can, for literally a few thousand dollars, a camper and 6 months of his life, maybe even less, he can win or at least finish in the “top tier”. If he does this, he will be a better candidate, because he will have sent a few hundred hours listening to the voters, and if he finishes in the top tier in the 1st tiny state, and again in the 2nd tiny state, and maybe finishes first in the 3rd small state, on what a careful man with a decent job could save over a few years, fund the start of a successful campaign and by the third state win, he will have donors and volunteers overwhelming his campaign and he can hire a manager and run a nationwide campaign.
A National Primary would mean a Bernie nor an Obama, or even a Bill Clinton would have ever had a chance. Only the party insiders or a Bloomberg or Trump could fund an outsider national campaign from day one.
My Dream Primary is what I call the Jeopardy Primary
We find 4 small states (and maybe DC), with at least two of them more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire, say Delaware and DC, together and Puerto Rico.
Spread them out two weeks apart, starting in early January. Then hold regional medium and small state primaries. We do this so that on any given Tuesday (or better yet, Saturday) the next round of primaries allows a candidate to catch up as in Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, and Final Jeopardy.
So the winner of New Hampshire, has 15 delegates then the Iowa winner has 30, the combo DE/DC winner has the chance to get 70, and P.R. could give the winner over 100, then two weeks after these 4 we have a regional, say 4-6 states and a sweep would give you 300, then two weeks later 6-8 states with at least 600 available to a dominate winner, and so on until the last week of the primaries would be the 7 top biggest states, CA, TX, FL, NY, IL, PA, & OH.
This way, if a candidate stumbles, the system will have time to give us a good strong new nominee. The primary season would last about 20 weeks and every voter would actually have a say, and we would still have the “Abe Lincoln” candidate, the little candidate with a big idea, or a series of big ideas that resonated with the voters.