RIGGING THE PRIMARIES, I HOPE
There's some talk about replacing the Iowa caucuses -- whose party hacks stuck us with John Kerry -- with a different first primary state. It won't happen, because the Iowans won't stand for it. But if the DNC were really focused on the next election, the first three primaries should be:
... which you will recall were the states Kerry needed to win two of, and of which he won only one. The Democratic candidate who can grab these states is practically guaranteed a win in November.
Oddly, now that New Hampshire is a swing state, it's not quite so stupid to have NH early. But why they should be privileged, along with Iowa, to practically nominate the Democratic candidate, is a matter of local politics, not national ones.
Two things to that:
1. Why not have them all at the same time? As you pointed out, the current setup gives one state a huge advantage. Why not have the equivalent of a straw vote, see where everyone stands at face value? Dean had a huge advantage until the misrepresented scream, and that killed his momentum and gave Kerry, practically, the nomination.
It's true that in previous campaigns, the winners did not emerge until halfway or so through the primaries (I think Clinton was a relative late bloomer, triumphing even over a sex scandal). In today's media environment, however, I think it's a different story. Momentum moves much faster (on the other hand, stories are as quickly forgotten as ever). The effect of Internet funding capabilities may have something to do with it. Look at something like Daily Kos - people who click into that can go from one candidate to the other in a matter of hours, instantly shifting large flows of money.
2. In this last election, there were some advantages seen to allowing people to vote early (not often). In Florida, IIRC, it really helped to allow people to vote early to alleviate the lines on election day (and even so, apparently the polling places were strained to capacity).
On the other hand, the current system had a big advantage for the candidates, in that they could concentrate campaigning resources in a handful of states, and if they won those they could coast on a fair bit of momentum - which in turn has cash value.
One step beyond that though: what if the candidates had to make do with a similar amount of cash, but spread it over 50 states? The dawn of the 50 state strategy, rather than the 18 state strategy. The Democrats may need it.
(Okay, so maybe some states can be written off, but a wider effort wouldn't hurt - and it just might precipitate more addressing of the issues, as well as more grassroots efforts.)
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