Alexander: Lengthen Primary Season

Posted February 10, 2004 at 6:16pm

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a two-time presidential candidate, is calling for a massive overhaul of the presidential nominating process that would incorporate higher contribution limits and spread out the 28 primaries “crammed into the five weeks after New Hampshire.”

Earlier this month, following Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) victories in New Hampshire and Iowa, Alexander took to the Senate floor to criticize the nominating process. The first-term Senator, former Tennessee governor and former Education secretary facetiously suggested that the country might be better served if the process was turned over to the National Football League.

“Every September, the NFL fields 32 teams, almost all with a shot at the playoffs,” Alexander complained. “Every four years, the presidential nominating process does well to attract a half-dozen credible candidates for the biggest job in the world. All but half are effectively eliminated after two contests. If professional football were presidential politics, SportsCenter would pick the Super Bowl teams after three or four preseason games.”

Alexander pointed out that if the NFL had followed in the tradition of the primary nominating process, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots “would have been toast” early on. The Patriots’ 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills last September and a subsequent defeat to the Washington Redskins would have been like long shot Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) upending frontrunner Kerry in New Hampshire, he said.

“But in the National Football League, upsets don’t end the season,” Alexander said. “The Patriots played 14 more games. They won them all.”

Continued Alexander: “The National Football League schedules 20 weeks of contests over five months to determine its champion. The presidential nominating process, on the other hand, uses the equivalent of two preseason games in Iowa and New Hampshire to narrow the field to two or three — and sometimes they effectively pick the winner.”

Alexander won just over 3 percent of the total GOP primary vote in the 1996 presidential primary contest — placing third in New Hampshire behind then-Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Patrick Buchanan. In the 2000 race, he dropped out in the summer of 1999 when Texas Gov. George Bush (R) commanded the lead.

In addition to spreading out the primaries, Alexander called for allowing higher contribution limits — he suggested “startup” contributions of up to $10,000 — to help candidates raise their first $10 million.

Alexander is not the only sitting Senator calling for an overhaul of the presidential funding system.

Last November, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the co-authors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that revamped the Congressional fundraising scene, introduced the Presidential Funding Act of 2003. Their legislation seeks to improve and reform the presidential public financing system by increasing the overall spending limit for the presidential primaries and providing more public matching funds for presidential primary candidates.