You say the state Legislature is playing you for a fool, promising you a chance to cast an early and influential vote in the presidential primary process, when their real goal is to escape from term limits that threaten their political careers? And you get to pick up the $90 million tab for an extra election for the privilege of having the wool pulled over your eyes. Is that what’s bothering you, bunkie?

Well, it turns out that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

California’s decision to move up its presidential primary to Feb. 5 has created a veritable stampede of other states not wanting to be left behind.

“Giga-Tuesday” — as Feb. 5 is now being called — will include Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, New York, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia, and potentially Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas. It is becoming what political scientists and good-government advocates have long warned against — a de facto national primary. In all likelihood, both party’s nominees will be set on Feb. 5, nine months before the Nov. election.

Why is that bad? For starters, it will take the better part of $100 million for a candidate to effectively compete on Giga-Tuesday, forced to buy advertising time simultaneously in some of the nation’s most expensive media markets. That’s part of the reason the Obama and Romney fundraising reports had such a big impact. Observers are beginning to figure out that even more than in 2000, the 2008 primary process is all about money.

Another consequence of the tightly compressed primary schedule is that the vetting process that occurs over a more extended primary season (who can forget Ed Muskie crying or Gary Hart’s nautical escapades?) will be shrunk into a three-week period between the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 14 and Giga-Tuesday on Feb. 5. The opportunities for voters to measure the candidates — watch how they respond to stress, see them at their best and worst — will largely be lost. California voters will begin casting absentee ballots the week before the Iowa caucuses.

And the negative impacts of California’s early primary aren’t limited to the national stage. In my next installment I’ll explore the impacts on state and local politics.

TOM SHEPARD

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