Why Do Iowa and New Hampshire Matter, Anyway?

With Washington, D.C. still on vacation for the remainder of August, political news outlets have been focusing on the race for the Republican presidential nomination. This means reporters are running around, following Texas governor Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (among others) across the country.

The campaigns have been flying (or busing) around the country, heading from state to state, trying to convince voters that they will be the best person to face Barack Obama in next year’s elections. To the casual observer, it may seem like the Republican candidates are travelling around the country in a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants willy-nilly fashion, but as with most of politics, there are ulterior motives afoot!

The upcoming Republican primary calendar, while still not set in stone, is organized in such a way that certain states are given much more political sway than others. Iowa, for instance, is an early primary state, holding their caucuses (a somewhat different form of primary voting) on February 6th of next year. Whichever candidate wins in Iowa then has a strong showing heading in to contests held the following day (primaries in MO and NJ with caucuses being held in MN). Following the two-back-to-back openers, within four weeks eighteen states will have completed their elections.

Clearly winning early primary states gives a candidate an advantage heading into the rest of the primary calendar. While the GOP schedule is set to stretch through the end of June, many political observers believe that the nomination could be secured well before then. Especially in a cycle like this, where there is an attempt to defeat an incumbent president, there is a likelihood that if a candidate manages a few strong wins early in the primary season, then subsequent primary voters may jump on the “surging” candidate’s bandwagon, preferring to settle on a nominee early in order to get started on the campaign for the general election.

At this point the national political media is in the position of following the campaigning Republicans around early primary state after early primary state, watching the candidates attempt to secure support and as many votes as possible. Whichever candidate manages to create a sense of “inevitability” about their campaign once the primaries start has a much better shot at being nominated by their party than those who allow their candidacy to get bowled down by news cycle after news cycle devoting time and free exposure to their opponents.

UPDATE:

To clarify the New Hampshire coverage: New Hampshire’s primary will be held on February 14, shortly after those held in IA, MO, and NJ. New Hampshire’s relative importance is due in part to its position on the calendar, but also because it is an “open primary” state, meaning that people registered as other than Republican can vote in the Republican primary. Because of this, New Hampshire is seen as a way to prove a candidate’s ability to win with independent voters and conservative or moderate Democrats, an argument that supposedly would help propel the candidate all the way to the general election.

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