National attention turns to Election 2000 anticipation
Five fevered months of primaries, caucuses kick off within weeks
By Ian Christopher McCaleb/CNN
January 7, 2000
Web posted at: 11:04 a.m. EST (1604 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The focus of the nation turns this week from fears of a meltdown at the hands of technology to the frantic waving, grasping and gesturing of a select group of human hands -- hands that hope to soon wield the presidential pen used to sign bills into law.
And though the 2000 presidential election is some 11 months from now, the clamor and hubbub that began late in 1999 will grow to a sustained din in very short order. Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses are only three weeks away, and New Hampshire's bellwether primary, easily the most scrutinized event of the five-month primary and caucus season, follows on February 1.
Then, the electoral floodgate is thrown wide open. Between February 1 and June 6, 71 polling events will take place in all 50 states, a number of U.S. territories, and in places overseas where expatriate Americans can gather to cast votes.
The schedule is fast and furious, with multiple events scheduled for single weeks throughout the cycle, and numerous state primaries stacked on singular Tuesdays from February to June -- the March 7 "Yankee" and the March 14 "Super Tuesday" primaries being perhaps the most challenging for candidates and observers alike.
Each of these events -- each primary, each caucus -- will give all Americans of eligible voting age a chance to take a first crack at determining who the next occupant of the White House will be, and which party will be fortunate enough to run the House of Representatives for the next two years.
And as each state and locality votes, the final picture will continually sharpen. The process of weeding out will almost certainly whittle the roster of high-profile presidential hopefuls from eight or 10, (including Reform Party participant Pat Buchanan and possible participant Donald Trump), down to just two or three by the late summer party conventions.
In these eight months, five of the six Republicans -- Governor George W. Bush of Texas, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, conservative activist Gary Bauer, talk show host Alan Keyes and publisher Steve Forbes -- are likely to drop out of the race for financial or other reasons.
And on the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore or former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley will be invited to watch the rest of the presidential race from the comfort of his living room by the time the Democratic National Convention is over.
"As we move into January and the voters of New Hampshire and
Iowa begin focusing more and more on specific issues -- issues they
may talk about with their families at the breakfast table and the
dinner table -- they will see differences," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said. "And we're going to be real clear about what those differences
From there, it's a footrace to November 7, when every voting-age American gets one more shot at sending one of the candidates to Washington for the 2001-2005 executive term.
Come the end of the 24th evening of January, 2000, all roads will lead from Iowa for the presidential hopefuls.
"This is going to be an interesting month," Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Rob Tully told The Des Moines Register. "It's going to get tougher; they're going to start making sharper contrasts with one another."
The state's Republican and Democratic caucuses will be held on that day as separate events, with registered members of both parties filling conference rooms, meeting houses and even private homes throughout the state to converse and argue over each candidate's strengths and shortcomings.
Iowa holds its caucus on January 24.
The caucuses officially begin in the evening, when groups of the Democratic and Republican faithful will assemble in hundreds of spots across the state to cast votes for their preferred presidential candidates, and to cast ballots for delegates to the state's 99 county conventions.
The voting method differs according to party. Iowa Republicans prefer a more formal straw vote, while some Democratic gatherings may express their will with a simple show of hands.
"The caucuses are a commitment of anywhere from an hour to two
or three hours," said Paulee Lipsman, who sits on the Democratic
National Committee and backs Gore. "It's difficult to get people
out and it's even harder to get people out who are independent and
prefer not to become involved in partisan politics."
The caucuses are only the beginning of a year's worth of political activity for Iowans, despite the fact that the candidates and members of the media will likely be on planes bound for Manchester, New Hampshire on the morning of January 25th.
County delegates will assemble shortly after the caucus ruckus dies down. Each county convention will nominate delegates to the state party conventions, where later in the year state party platforms will be developed, and delegates to the national party conventions will be chosen.
The Granite State
But the attention will have shifted away from Iowa only hours after the caucus victors are announced, and will next be trained on the tiny northeastern state of New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary is traditionally regarded as the most important election event of the primary season.
Every party candidate, bar none, has thrown substantial portions of campaign budgets into the Granite State, and spent numerous hours, days and weeks traversing its varied terrain -- from the Boston satellite "Gate City" of Nashua, to the reborn textile mill city of Manchester, through the lakes region and the White Mountains, to the thick forest communities along the Canadian border.
New Hampshire residents vote in the state's primary on February 1.
Long established as the event that party dark horses and underdogs must take full advantage of to fuel their campaigns through the feverish months of February and March, the New Hampshire primary is key for the notoriety its brings its winners and its close runners-up, and for the scars it metes out to those who make a poor showing.
"It's a little different here," Karen Brown, news director of television station WMUR in Manchester, N.H., said last week. " George Bush trails by a slim margin in the polls to John McCain; Bill Bradley is the leader over Al Gore. And it's interesting to see both George Bush and Al Gore paint themselves as the underdog...whereas, in the rest of the nation, that's not the case."
Of course, the argument can be made that New Hampshire's primary, for all of its media attention, all of its lore and wintertime, picture-perfect notoriety, sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be. New Hampshire voters, pigeonholed as cantankerous, unpredictable and independently minded, handed Patrick Buchanan, then a Republican, a victory in 1996, while Paul Tsongas took the state from future president Bill Clinton in 1992.
Some candidates will even go so far as to say that New Hampshire isn't as important to them as later events, arguing the upcoming February 19th South Carolina primary could be just as key to their fortunes. But the New Hampshire primary has always served as the election season's most effective sifter, with many candidates who make a poor showing opting to drop out of the race within days its occurrence. In fact, since the primary was established in its more or less current form in 1952, only Clinton has lost the primary and won the presidency.
And exercising that sort of effect and influence, it would seem, is what brings the New Hampshire voter an unparalleled sort of joy every four years.
3,000+ -mile Endurance Test
South Carolina's closely watched primary follows New Hampshire's on the 19th of February, with non-binding primaries in Delaware and the Hawaii GOP caucus in between.
On March 7, "Yankee" primary voters head for the polls in California, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The presidential candidates, their staff and members of the national media can then expect to spend the majority of their working days at 30,000 feet, as all crisscross the length and width of the nation in a frenzied attempt to keep up with the torturous primary schedule.
The rest of February will be difficult enough. Residents of Arizona, Michigan, Virginia, North Dakota and Washington State will all have voted in caucuses and primaries by the end of the year's second month, with nary a day to breathe before the month of March begins.
March 7 brings the "Yankee" primary, when two of the most pivotal states in the presidential voting process, California and New York, conduct their primaries. Also thrown into the Yankee mix: Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Single-party caucuses are scheduled for Minnesota, Idaho, Hawaii and North Dakota.
Six states hold primaries on "Super Tuesday" -- Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana.
One week later, the 14th, is the key "Super Tuesday" primary, with votes in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana. Sandwiched in between is the "Big Sky" primary on the 10th, which brings votes in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
From March 15 through June 6, it's a steady stream of voting events to close out the primary/caucus calendar, giving the candidates left standing on the 7th of June some eight weeks to prepare for the party conventions. The Republicans will converge on Philadelphia from July 31 to August 3, while the Democrats will assemble in Los Angeles from August 14-17.
This is the face, the pace of the American presidential election process -- 11 months of Year 2000 campaigning, countless speeches and campaign appearances, and 73 primaries and caucuses between Iowa and the last primaries in New Jersey, New Mexico, Alabama, Montana and South Dakota on June 6. It's a long, hard road to the White House, and the beginning of the Election 2000 spectacle is only days away.