As a high school senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Martin Moore, one of the best teachers that I ever had, challenged our Accelerated American Government class to think about how we nominate presidential candidates in the United States. Little did I know at the time that our conversations about changing the presidential primary/caucus structure would ring so true a few decades later. In response to Mr. Moore’s challenge, I wrote a paper outlining (as well as an 18 year-old was equipped to do) a rotating regional primary/caucus system. Just as we discussed in the classroom then, it’s time for our country to consider how we nominate presidential candidates in earnest now.
No matter the political beliefs and allegiances held by Americans, the majority of people in the United States recognize that we do not select our presidential candidates in the most logical manner. Under our current primary and caucus system, a handful of states have a disproportionate impact on who is nominated for president. While I have friends and enjoy spending time in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, it does not make sense for these states to eliminate the majority of candidates from consideration during every presidential election cycle before other citizens have an opportunity to have their voices heard.
Under our current system, candidates for president invest a significant amount of time and money in these four states to position themselves for success. Understandably, the candidates focus on the issues that have the biggest impact in those states and sometimes, take positions that pander to those locations but are not the best for the country. As a result, some issues that are very important in other places in our country do not receive the attention that they deserve. We need an approach that would force dialogue regarding critical regional and nationwide issues and also require candidates to campaign in a different manner than they do under the current system. Something needs to change to tap into the voices of citizens throughout the U.S. for the 2024 presidential primaries and caucuses.
In the same way I was intrigued by the concept of a rotating regional primary and caucus system in high school, I think it’s worth taking out of the archives and bringing into the mainstream dialogue as a viable option now. So, what is a rotating regional primary and caucus system? The idea is to divide the U.S. into four geographic regions; East, Midwest, South and West. Each region would hold primaries or caucuses on the same date. As an example, if it was a year when the West was the first region in the rotation, the states in that region would vote on the same day during the second week of February. Then, the three remaining regions, East, Midwest and South, would hold their elections based on the rotational order during the second week in March, April and May. Every four years, the order would rotate so each region would have an opportunity to go first over time.
This approach would require presidential candidates to devote their time, energy and financial resources to the 12 – 13 states in that region. Candidates could no longer afford to cherry pick a handful of states and pander to voters there. In addition, the system would become more efficient from a paid advertisement/communications perspective as many television and radio markets overlap state borders. With a regional primary system in place, a television commercial on Chicago stations could be seen in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin when citizens are voting on the same day versus on four different dates.
In addition, the voters in these states would have an opportunity to discuss issues that are important to their region of the country with the candidates in a more thoughtful manner. While some large issues (the economy, national defense, education, etc.) impact all areas of the U.S., there are some issues that are more regional in nature. In the West, issues such as; water rights and environmental disasters are very important, while in the East, mass transit and aging infrastructure are a concern. The Midwest is grappling with how the changing manufacturing economy is impacting its communities and combating the opioid epidemic, and the South is facing educational attainment and poverty issues.
A regional primary system would result in more states helping to select presidential candidates. Instead of four early primary and caucus states eliminating a majority of candidates from consideration, 12 or 13 states would shape the initial candidate weaning process. Then, another 12 – 13 states in the second region in the rotation would vet the remaining candidates to further reduce the field to its finalists. The remaining regions in the rotation would then focus on a few final candidates that would then lead to a selected candidate securing enough delegates to earn their party’s nomination at a party convention in June or July. This concept would help shape and better select candidates for president by giving more citizens a voice in the process as compared to how it is currently done.
In conclusion, there are steps that we can take as a nation to select future presidents in a more inclusive manner. More Americans should have a voice in this process than do today. The U.S. is a collection of different states and regions. We share interest in many issues, but also have issues that are more impactful in the regions of the country that we live in. As a result, we need to adopt a process to reflect these differences to ensure we have the best candidates to pick from as the leader of the United States.
Thank you, Martin Moore, for expanding the mind of a then 18-year-old to think bigger and question outdated processes to benefit the greater good of everyone.
Larry Gigerich serves as Executive Managing Director of Ginovus and a member of the Site Selectors Guild.