Playing Catch-Up May Be Harder This Time
Short Primary Calendar Means Candidates With Momentum Could Just Keep Rolling
By Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 5, 2008; A01
MANCHESTER, N.H., Jan. 4 — When George W. Bush stumbled here in his quest for the presidency in 2000, he had 18 days to recover before the next major primary. But the erstwhile front-runners humbled in Iowa this week emerged with just five days to get back on their feet, slow down their rivals and salvage their campaigns.
For all the discussion about how early this year’s presidential primary season started, the more profound change in the political calendar is how compressed it has become. Starting with the Iowa caucuses, 31 states will vote over 33 days for the nominee of one or both parties, compared with just nine states that voted in the equivalent period eight years ago.
The furious pace of contests this year will be so intense that it could make momentum king and increase the challenge exponentially for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Mitt Romney as they try to shrug off defeats in Iowa and regroup for New Hampshire‘s primary on Tuesday. That proves a bitter irony for both camps, which had built their strategies around the assumption that they would exploit the compressed schedule to roll over other candidates before anyone had a chance to catch up.
You may not know of the ‘endless potato.’ The endless potato was created by a guy who grinds up potatoes and feeds them into an extruder, where they essentially become one long French fry.
This run-up to election has become an endless potato–going on for more than a year with nearly a year to go. Various media outlets have conspired to keep us interested and the candidates have done their part by charging up the same hill for mid-western farmers in cafes and living-rooms and high school gymnasiums.
There’s much TV and newspaper profit in endless potatoes, as is proven by the seriousness with which Tim Russert devotes Sunday after Sunday to worshipful attendance upon a Biden here and a Huckabee there.
Campaign coverage shares profitability with celebrity coverage–explaining (for those who can bear the explanation) why Keith Olbermann has to pay nightly tribute to Paris Hilton–there are almost no production costs. The same is true of school-shootings and dog-fighting quarterbacks, which is why those stories seem never to go away.
Yet suddenly we are told in the sternest of pundit-tones, that the vagaries of corn-belt citizens have all but shut off the lights and put to bed the children of this campaign marathon. 1/6th of 1% of the American population, temporarily made idle by their frozen fields, have cast in bronze our presidential choice.
Unless New Hampshire, which chooses to ‘Live Free or Die,’ tips over the Iowa table upon which the endless potato has been coiling these past months, we are destined to witness Barack O’Bama debate Mike Huckabee. In the ‘aw shucks’ rhetoric of both candidates, we may wind up as shucked as all that Iowa corn.
But all is not lost, Hillary and John. There are four shopping-days left to save the Union.
Is this a great country, or what?