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The Strengths And Weaknesses Of The System Of Choosing Presidential Candidates

2656 words - 11 pages

The Strengths and Weaknesses of the System of Choosing Presidential Candidates

It seems reasonable to conjecture that the Achilles' heel of the
modern presidency is one of recruitment. The long-winded delegate
nomination process could in theory be replaced by a daylong direct
election of presidential candidates. Instead, tradition dictates that
the presidential race is drawn out quadrennially over the pre-primary,
primary, Party Convention and campaign seasons. All four phases
influence the outcome of candidate selection and much also depends on
campaign finance, the role of the media and the nominees themselves.

Although the process is considered a "complex, drawn-out affair" in
the eyes of observers (Janda and Al, 1994 p191), the system ensures
the person chosen will become an established national public figure by
the November Presidential election. The Pre-primary stage, which
commences some two years prior, allows tentative feelers to be put out
to test potential support. Currently we can see the Democrats testing
the water with possible candidates such as John Edwards, John.F.Kerry
and Joe Lieberman, and already the press are on their cases surmising
who will be the front runner. This time, although coined the
"Invisible" primary, is important as whom ever the press decide to
back will influentially determine who the public will vote for in the
primary season. Additionally, it is now when contenders will make the
'rule of thumb' calculation to raise at least $20 million to finance a
viable campaign.

Before assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Primary system,
which operates in 38 out of the 50 states, it is important to consider
the Caucus system that it replaced, a system that still operates in 12
states today. In Caucuses, the power to select delegates, who are sent
to nominate presidential candidates at the National Party Convention,
rests with Party activists who meet first at a local, then county and
finally at a state level to make their choices. The caucus system
propounds the strength of the Party elite who have an overriding
influence as to who is chosen. As Ragsdale observed (1993, p.95), the
system tended to be dominated and controlled by party bosses, as
"deals were cut in smoke-filled rooms," rather than by ordinary
rank-and-file members. This was far from democratic, and since the
controversy surrounding Humphrey's nomination for the Democratic Party
in 1968, the McGovern-Fraser Commission established reforms which saw
the advent of the 'Media Primary.' Since 1972, this procedure has
become the system with gravitas: 77% of the votes cast by Republican
delegates in 1988 came from those selected by primaries. These
state-wide intra-party elections mean that any supporters can vote for
a nominee to send to the National Convention and although these
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