3.16.2007

Latino Voters Critical in New Primary Calendar

Iowa and New Hampshire voters have long enjoyed a level of influence over the selection of the country's political party nominees--and, therefore, presidents of the United States--than their tiny numbers warranted.

Why? Because voters in those states have gotten to vote way before everybody else, ensuring "momentum" for their preferred candidates. By comparison, by the time the primaries of big, urban states came around, candidates have been decided.

While the primary schedule has worked against the interest of big urban states, it also has largely voided the electoral power of African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups, which are heavily concentrated in those states. Millions of Latino and African American voters in the late primary states of New York, California and Illinois means virtually nothing in comparison to the hugely powerful votes of a relatively small number of mostly white, rural voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Perhaps this is why instead of getting urbane, tolerant and measured presidencies, the United States has gotten Delta Bill, Peanut Carter, Oil Patch Bush and Rancher Reagan. It's not to say that these men aren't without positive attributes, or that they wouldn't have won their party's nominations anyway, but it's easy to see how an inverted primary schedule would have yield very different results.

The good news is that a number of urban states are moving their primaries up. For example, California just approved a February 5th primary--and New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey are considering similar moves.

What's interesting about a new primary line-up is that not only does it open the door to the presidency for a different set of politicians, but it elevates the importance of the Latino primary vote. Why? Because fully 75% of the country's Latino population live in those states.

Latinos may go from a largely ignored voter group, to a highly courted bloc, and early in the process where support leverages the most clout.