The Presidential Campaign – American Government
(American Government, Walter E. Volkomer)
The aim of every political constitution is:
1. To obtain for rulers men to discern and pursue the common good of the society. 2. To take most effective precautions so they continue to hold their public trust. (James Madison, The Federalist, No. 57)
The manner, time, places of holding elections is set in each state by the Legislature but the Congress may at any time by law make or change such regulations. (Article 1, Section 1)
This constitutional disposal provides the basis for state administration not only for its own elections but also for federal office. State personnel operate this system.
State laws establish the rules by which the system function. In most states the election system is administered at the county level. Congress has the power to control the election system of this nation. Federal law: punishes bribery, false registration, intimidation of voters, filing false election returns, illegal voting etc. Congress has enacted legislation to prevent racial discrimination in the exercise of the civil right to vote. The first such legislation was enacted in 1870.
Since 1950s a network of federal laws have been past to protect voting rights from various forms of discrimination.
In most democratic nations, political parties choose candidates for public office. United States did not followed this practice.
Since 19th century reformers wanted the adoption of nomination systems that would be more democratic – weaken the political parties and give people greater power to choose candidates. The earliest means of choosing candidates for public office was – the legislative caucus.
The legislative caucus defect - districts that had elected legislators from one party were not represented in the caucus of the other party. The remedy: - mixed caucus was developed.
This reform did not last and the caucus system was largely abandoned. Andrew Jackson and his supporters – overturning what they called “King Caucus”. In 1824 election, the Democratic party caucus failed to pick Jackson - discredit the system as being undemocratic. In place of caucus – the convention system was favored claiming that it would democratize American politics. By the 1832 election, the convention was used by major political parties to nominate candidates for president and vice president. In early 20th century a reform movement known as progressivism wanted the abolition of the convention system using the same argument of a undemocratic system. Instead of convention system – favored direct primary where voters in a primary election nominate candidates and officials. The primary system – the most common method of nominating individuals for public office. Some states require the use of a runoff primary when none of the candidates receives a majority of the votes in a primary election. The runoff primary is held between two candidates who receive most of the votes, and the victor becomes the party’s nominee in the general election. The primary system has largely replaced the convention. A few states still use the convention system such as Kansas, Nevada, Wyoming and Virginia.
Two basic types of primaries:
1. Closed primary – most states use it, voters who have registered with a party may vote. 2. Open primary – about seventeen states use it, voters does not have to affiliate with a particular party before taking part.
Nominating a Presidential candidate
The national conventions of both major parties formally choose their presidential and vice presidential candidates. Today the choice of candidates for national elections take place in the state primaries, where delegates support particular candidates to be chosen.
Choosing the Delegates
Presidential Primaries – first used in Wisconsin 1905 – is now adopted by majority of the states. In 1956 – nineteen states had primaries.
By 1976 the total was twenty-nine.
In 2008 forty states and the District of Columbia held some form of presidential primaries. Both Democratic and Republican delegates are chosen in state primaries. State legislatures adopted state presidential primary laws.
Delegates are chosen either by statewide voting or at the local level. Republican party have required the winner-take-all method of choosing delegates. In 2012 nominating process – Republicans adopted the proportional representation system. About 823 (19%) delegates at the 2008 Democratic National Committee were superdelegates. Republicans don’t have superdelegates, but a number of unpledged delegates who attended 2008 convention, including 123 members of the Republican National Committee. Each party determines the total number of delegates who will attend its national convention. The Democratic party’s rules emphasize population and favor the most populated states such as California, New York and Texas. The Republican party’s rules give greater delegate strength to smaller states.
Caucuses and Conventions
Initially, caucuses were controlled by the political parties. In today’s presidential nominating campaigns, candidates organize their supporters to attend caucus meetings.
The Preconvention Campaign
Candidates concentrate on winning state primaries, starting with the earliest one usually held in New Hampshire. A candidate who wins the early primaries gains: delegate support, national publicity, support from delegates in states with caucus system, increased financial backing, greater popularity with voters. New York Senator Hillary Clinton was favorite to win the Democratic party’s presidential nomination but was challenged by Illinois Senator Barack Obama who received the Democratic nomination in September’s convention. Obama’s strategy was to win in the early caucus states, Senator Clinton couldn’t overcome Obama’s advantage. Half a dozen persons sought the Republican party nomination in 2008. The main candidates were Senator John McCain, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Presidential nomination season stretches from late January to early February to the nominating conventions held in summer. Those who held late events found that one candidate had secured enough delegates to win and this caused an increasing number of states to schedule their primaries and caucuses to early dates – frontloading. Republican party altered this system in 2012 presidential nomination process. First four states to choose delegates in 2012: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida- selected only 115 of the 2,282 delegates. Frontloading characterized the 2008 nomination system.
On so-called “Super Tuesday” – February 5, 2008 – twenty-four states held their primaries and caucuses.
The National Convention
The main task of the convention is to nominate the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates, including the preparation and approval of a party platform.
Adopting a Platform
Major task of a national convention - adopt a party platform. A series of statements of general policy each of which is called a plank. The platform is a set of compromises through which the party seeks to unite its diverse supporters, for example : Republican platforms have opposed abortion, Democratic platforms have endorsed it as a basic constitutional liberty possessed by women.
Nominating a Presidential Candidate
The nomination procedure begins with the names of the candidates proposed to the convention. After all the names are placed before the delegates a roll-call vote of the states is taken and a nominee is chosen. Today national conventions simply ratify the choice of a presidential nominee that has already been made in the state primaries. Conventions continue to to serve as a means of rallying the party faithful, they are valuable in obtaining television time to publicize the party. Television networks are unhappy with the presentation of the national conventions. In both 2004 and 2008 the party conventions lasted four days; the television networks dedicated only three hours of live coverage on three evenings to the conventions.
Nominating a Vice Presidential candidate
The presidential nominee chooses his own running mate, and his selection is always approved by the convention. Presidential nominees have been concerned with balancing the ticket, vice presidents may be strangers selected for the purpose of balancing the ticket. Sometimes they are even political opponents of the nominee.(For example: In 1960, John F. Kennedy selected Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate. In 2000, George Bush picked Richard Cheney as his running mate, the choice was made because of Cheney’s long experience in government. In 2008, Barack Obama selected Senator Joseph Biden because he had foreign policy experience, something that he lacked.)
A National Primary?
Present system of nominating presidential candidates is criticized because of its complex and confusing procedures. The proposed alternative – national primary.
National primaries would:
Eliminate national cconventions