Tuesday, January 16, 2007

And So It Begins Again

This news generated some ambivalence when I learned about it this weekend:
WASHINGTON -- New Hampshire's two leading news organizations will partner with CNN to host two presidential debates in April, executives with the three media companies announced Friday.

CNN, WMUR and The New Hampshire Union Leader will hold the back-to-back debates on April 4 and 5, the first such events to be held of the 2008 presidential campaign. CNN's Wolf Blitzer will moderate the debates with questions coming from WMUR's Scott Spradling and Union-Leader's John DiStaso. WMUR's Jennifer Vaughn will be moderating questions from the audience. The debate will be televised live nationally on CNN and throughout New Hampshire on WMUR.

"We are thrilled to provide our viewers with the information to make the most informed decision possible when they are voting in their presidential primaries or caucusing," said CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein.

I'm thrilled, too, in the following way. These organizations have considerable experience and expertise in hosting primary events. They run a good show, so conditional on there being events, I'm glad they are in charge. But I would be just as thrilled (and maybe a bit more) if we could start the big events later in the process. I see two pitfalls of starting so early.

First, one of the things that's so interesting about the New Hampshire primary is how much it depends on retail politics--small venues with each of the candidates away from the intense media spotlight of television. I think the process actually helps develop the candidates for the national stage. It is the best justification for continuing to afford the state such a prominent role in the national process of electing the next President. If we put the candidates on television so soon, we select for the naturally telegenic before letting the process of retail politics do its good work, and we undermine the unique aspect of the New Hampshire primary.

Second, why do we have to spend such a long time on an active campaign for the Presidency? There are about 9 and 19 months between the first week of April 2007 and the 2008 New Hampshire primary and general election, respectively. What would we lose by just waiting until the fall before turning up the media spotlight? Not too much, really. What would we gain? Maybe six months of the media spotlight focused on the people actually governing in Washington.

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