How primaries work: Democratic Party's process makes for longer campaign

With campaigns starting sooner and primaries moving up earlier on the calendar, the length of the nominating process has become extended.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | 10:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:06 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Primary season came to a close Tuesday night after one of the longest campaigns to date.

“Primary season has gotten longer and longer,” MU communications professor Bill Benoit said. “Many people think that the primary season goes too long.”

Benoit said there were two reasons for the length of the primary: The first primary in New Hampshire was on Jan. 8, the earliest it has been in history, and actual campaigns are starting much sooner — some as much as a year before the first vote is cast.

Part of the reason the Democratic primary is so long is that it is complicated.

“I recently saw the rules printout for the Missouri Democrats, and it’s like 70 pages long,” said Marvin Overby, a political science professor at MU.

Primaries became important for Democrats because they allow for more direct participation by party activists, Overby said.

“The Democratic Party is not just a party with capital ‘D,’ but a lower case d. They place higher value on everyone being included,” Overby said.

The Democrats restructured their entire nomination process after the 1968 election when Hubert Humphrey won the presidency, Overby said. Humphrey had the backing of the party elites but not activists like those who supported women’s rights and wereanti-Vietnam War. The solution was the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which resulted in better representation of issues and reduced the role of party leaders.

“Republicans have not gone nearly as far down that road,” Overby said. “They have not made such a fetish of equal representation and are much more wiling to take the next guy in line.”

The two party’s primaries vary because of the vast difference between the parties themselves.

“I think that it has to do with the different composition and attitudes toward authority,” Overby said.

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