WASHINGTON – The longer Republican primary season will result in a stronger presidential candidate. Or maybe not.
Political experts agree Mitt Romney will be the party’s nominee,but they disagree about whether the new,drawn-out primary calendar will hurt him in the fall.
“I think the competition is better for the party,and I think Mitt Romney is better for the competition that he’s had to undergo,” David A. Norcross,former general counsel for the Republican National Committee,said Thursday at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
But in a column published Friday,two political experts said,“Among Republicans,this much is excruciatingly clear: the continuing fight is harming their chances for a November victory.”
The authors are G. Terry Madonna,professors at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster,Pa.,and Michael L. Young,of Michael Young Strategic Research.
Changes in the Republican primary rules required that no state other than Iowa,New Hampshire,South Carolina and Nevada hold its primary elections or caucuses before the first Tuesday in March without receiving a penalty.
Norcross,who was one the designers of the reforms,said the Republican Party wanted to allow time for candidates to stumble and be able to recover or start out slowly,win smaller states and collect money.
“The idea was not to have the first four,five or six states decide the nominee,” he said.
Curtis Gans,Center for the Study of the American Electorate director,agreed.
“I think what you built in was flexibility,accountability and ability for people to make a reasoned judgment over time,” he said.
But almost one-third of voters in Ohio said they made their decision in the last few days,and more than half said they made their decision in the last few weeks,according to CNN exit polls. That was a decrease from almost half of voters in Iowa who said they made their decision in the few days before the caucus.
In the last month,independents have also shifted away from Romney toward President Barack Obama. In a survey,more than half of independents said they would vote for Obama,compared to 41 percent a month ago,according to the Pew Research Center.
“He doesn’t have the discipline,” James Thurber,a government professor at American University,said of Romney. “The mistakes are making him a weaker candidate.”
Thurber said Romney is likely to win the nomination despite his verbal gaffes. Romney is developing field operations in battleground states that could help him win the general election,Thurber said.
Gans said the longer primary season was not causing the lower voter turnout seen in many states.
“Probably,part of it has to do with a certain lack of enthusiasm about the candidates,and a sort of narrower dialogue,” he said.
Eight of the 13 states that have held primaries had a lower voter turnout than in 2008,according to a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Some think the reforms were a bad idea.
“I think the reforms of the last four years have contributed to the destruction of the party,” Jay Cost,reporter for the Weekly Standard,said.
National parties no longer have control of their identities because of the rise of candidate-centered campaigns,he said.
Norcross said the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002,not the longer primary season,weakened national parties.
The legislation,informally known as McCain-Feingold,strengthened campaign finance regulations,particularly in collecting soft money donations. Soft money contributions go to political organizations instead of to candidates,who must follow stricter campaign finance rules.
The speakers agreed they did not foresee the impact super political action committee spending would have in the longer campaign season,even though the party changed the calendar after the Supreme Court ruling loosening campaign finance laws.
But donors would have found a way to get their money into the election with or without super PACs,Norcross said.
“Money in politics is a plus,because that’s how we communicate with the electorate,” he said.
Reach reporter Jordain Carney at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.