Campaign season is off to an extremely early start.
In a stunning twist, the state of South Carolina has announced that it will move its presidential primary from Feb. 2, 2008, up to next Tuesday, a decision that has pushed the nomination schedule into massive disarray.
This surprise change has forced New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, who is bound by state law to hold the New Hampshire primary at least one week before any other state's, to reschedule the Granite State primary for yesterday, a peculiar set of events that has seriously suppressed voter turnout.
"This isn't fair," Barack Obama supporter Liz Donelly said. "If I had known the primary was yesterday, I totally wouldn't have spent the day at Hampton Beach."
As of late last night, it was unclear who had won the Democratic contest, although Hillary Clinton was quick to claim victory. John Edwards, however, disputed the scheduling, claiming that yesterday wasn't at all good for him because he was at a thing all afternoon and wasn't able to campaign. Barack Obama also complained that the timing was unfortunate, noting that he wasn't planning to have gathered all the experience necessary to be president until December at the earliest.
On the Republican side, however, John McCain enthusiastically supported the idea. According to sources from within the McCain camp, the candidate has asked South Carolina officials to move their primary back even further, to last January, when his campaign was still ahead in the polls. "I'm gonna drive the Straight Talk Express all the way back in time and then on to the White House," he told voters at a town meeting held outside a Peterborough Dunkin' Donuts.
If McCain's ploy fails, then Mitt Romney is almost certain to win South Carolina, a key victory that could propel him on to the Republican nomination. With California, Florida, New York, and 16 other states all expected to hold their primary sometime next weekend, Romney could have the nomination wrapped up by the end of the month. In a further sign of Romney's strong position, Fox News has already called the general election in his favor.
Not to be outdone, the state of Nevada has decided to hold its 2012 primary on Sept. 5, 2007, which could force New Hampshire to hold its 2012 primary in the same month as the 2008 primary. This would be the first time two primaries have occurred in the same month since February 1952, when Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver dramatically won both the 1952 and 1956 New Hampshire primaries.
Surprisingly, few voters seem upset by the changes. In a recent poll, 75 percent of voters supported the accelerated primary schedule. Interpretations of this poll have been mixed. Some pundits think the public just wants the election to be over with. Others suspect that voters are under the mistaken impression that Bush's presidency will end early. These voters will be disappointed to learn that George W. Bush will still be president until Jan. 20, 2009.
Joe Lavin is a freelance writer from Boston.
Photograph of Barack Obama on Slate's home page by Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.