< Primary Pile-Up

Transcript

Friday, March 30, 2007

BOB GARFIELD:
In campaign news outside the Beltway, states across the country are scurrying to move their Presidential primaries earlier in the year – to February 5th, 2008. Call it super-duper Tuesday. Eight states are currently slotted for that day, and sixteen more may follow suit. It's an attempt to steal some political clout from the traditional "golden children" of the primary season, Iowa and New Hampshire.

Some say the new date will force candidates to pay attention to states they traditionally ignore. Others say there's nothing super or, in fact, duper about it.

But how will the change affect coverage? Will there be no more datelines from the Iowa coffee shop, the proverbial New Hampshire knitting circle? Wayne Slater is a political reporter for The Dallas Morning News, and he joins us now. Wayne, welcome to OTM.
WAYNE SLATER:
Great to be with you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:
Now, as one of the inveterate boys on the bus, your job has been to follow these candidates around for weeks and months. How does this change your job?
WAYNE SLATER:
Obviously [LAUGHS]I like the idea of Texas moving its primary to February, because, in part, it requires these candidates to come down here. We might be a state that the candidates come to, to raise money – Texas, for example, New York, California - but when it comes to actually engaging the voters, these candidates focus most of their attention in the primary season on Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina. So far this year all the candidates have come through Texas, and I rarely am able to talk to them.
BOB GARFIELD:
Well, congratulations, Willy Loman, attention is being paid [LAUGHS] to your Texas. [SLATER LAUGHS] And I guess that gives you an opportunity for local reporting. But what do you lose during the rest of the campaign journalistically if the whole shooting match is over in February?
WAYNE SLATER:
Well, you know, once upon a time, and it wasn't that long ago, you had a whole series of primaries where you had a campaign narrative that developed over time. And, journalistically, not only were we able to follow this narrative – somebody's up, somebody's down, somebody makes a mistake, somebody says something great – and we can be criticized for following the horse race – but it was actually the development of these candidates, watch them answer questions, watch them engage with the voters over an extended period of months. Now the thread is – for those who don't like this idea – it's going to be over so quickly you really have no time to do this.

If you have a situation where you have two dozen states all having their primary on the same day, you're not going to see these candidates in all of those states. What you're going to see is a lot of television commercials.
BOB GARFIELD:
You're saying that this whole thing could backfire?
WAYNE SLATER:
I think it could backfire. And one of the arguments of the opponents of this move, in a state like mine, and Texas, is that if, after it is over on February 6th, one or both parties still don't have a nominee, then those states which haven't joined the crowd are really going to be premium opportunities where the candidates will have to really pay attention.
BOB GARFIELD:
King-maker states.
WAYNE SLATER:
Absolutely. You can see Texas or some other state a week or two weeks or a month later becoming the ultimate state that a nominee would have to have. And let me tell you, whatever state it would be would see all these candidates like they've never seen them before.
BOB GARFIELD:
I'm curious. Have the states' large newspapers – including yours – editorialized for or against moving the primary?
WAYNE SLATER:
All politics is local, and the editorials that I've seen, including ours so far, are supportive of the idea of moving the process. In Texas, we tend to think whatever's good for Texas is good for America. [BOB LAUGHS] There is, I think, a sense that if we can be a bigger player in this process, then we can help not only pick the nominee in a fundamental way, but we can affect the debate.

Republicans will talk about immigration in New Hampshire and Iowa in one way. But you go to South Texas, near the Mexico border, and you really have the potential to have a different kind of debate – not that they change their mind on issues – but you have a constituency that says do you really understand the ramifications – Republican or Democrat – of what it is you're proposing and you're for?
BOB GARFIELD:
[LAUGHING] All right, Wayne. Well, thank you so much.
WAYNE SLATER:
Good to be with you.
BOB GARFIELD:
Wayne Slater is the senior political reporter for The Dallas Morning News. He is coauthor, with James Moore, of The Architect: Karl Rove and the Dream of Absolute Power – a subtitle, which, by the way was changed from the hardcover edition – The Master Plan for Absolute Power. Events have dictated a new subtitle.