PHILADELPHIA – Maryland’s delegation to the Republican National Convention generally backs presumptive presidential nominee George W. Bush, but not when it comes to his rejection of a primary election plan to give smaller states more power.
“I think it is clearly time to change the method of continually front- loading the primaries,” said Richard Bennett, Maryland Republican Party chairman.
For now, though, front-loading is here to stay. The “Delaware Plan,” which would have allowed small states like Maryland to vote before big states like California, was unanimously supported by the state’s delegation and approved by the Republican National Committee.
The plan died in the rules committee on a vote of 66-33 after the Bush campaign expressed its distaste for it.
The Delaware plan is an effort to recover some of the influence that states with smaller populations have lost to more populous states. Under it, the primary election schedule would be divided into four voting rounds, starting with the smallest states in February and ending with the largest in May.
Maryland’s Republican primary voters would head to the polls no later than April 6, 2004, with the third round of states.
“All states would have a voice before the process was settled,” said Ellen Sauerbrey, chairwoman of Maryland’s Republican delegation and two-time gubernatorial candidate.
Sauerbrey was particularly worried about the development of a national primary where presidential candidates would be forced to expend most of their energy garnering the votes of big states and pay little attention to the voters in the small states.
A national primary is more likely to evolve from the current front-loaded system than a structured primary schedule such as the Delaware plan, said Maryland delegate and Republican vice chairman Louis Pope. Front-runners don’t like the competition that could emerge from early small-state races, he said.
“If you are an insurgent and you wanted to go against a sitting president,” Pope said, “you can capture a few states and gain some credibility.” Bush and his supporters oppose a Delaware plan because a John McCain could gain even more momentum against a 2004 re-election bid, Pope said. McCain, an Arizona senator, won the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary this year, throwing a scare into the front-running Bush campaign.
“Primaries can be destructive if they get nasty,” said Pope. And they might get especially ugly if the Delaware plan made it cheaper to run for president and more candidates entered the field. Supporters of party-backed candidates “don’t want people killing each other in the primary,” Pope continued. “It can come back and hurt you in the [general] election.”
Competition sparks voter interest and, in turn, more voters pay attention to the candidates running for offices other than president, said Sauerbrey. Voters and candidates come out the losers in the noncompetitive races that favor front-runners. Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University, said the average voter barely counts in the debate over primary structure. And average voters care little about primaries, he said, but “party stalwarts eat, sleep and breathe this stuff.” Lichtman said there is only a remote chance that something like the Delaware plan would ever be approved because “for the establishment(leaders) of the party who wants to anoint a candidate, the current system works.” – 30 – CNS-07-31-00