Get in It to Win It

Get in It to Win It

Front-loaded primaries and a volatile ’08 race are creating unprecedented opportunities for progressives. They’ll gain traction only if they form a smart, tech-savvy and cohesive movement.


Democratic activists have complained for years about a presidential nominating process largely defined by the first-caucus state of Iowa and the first-primary state of New Hampshire. Both states, it was said, were too white, too rural and too prone to personality politics and regional eccentricity. So a lot of progressives wanted to open up the primary and caucus schedule with more regional, racial and ideological diversity. Now that the process is changing–rapidly and radically–the challenge is to use it to our advantage.

It won’t be easy. The 2008 race, the first since 1928 in which neither a sitting President nor Vice President is angling for the nomination, is proving to be exceptionally volatile. Neither party has a definitive front-runner. Presumed leaders, such as John McCain, have stumbled. Even after several rounds of high-profile debates, the fields continue to expand–with Fred Thompson preparing to leap into the GOP pack, while former Vice President Al Gore is a tantalizing prospect for Democrats. Then there is newly independent New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg stoking speculation about a run in the general election (see Micah L. Sifry, page 5), which could also feature Senator Chuck Hagel and Ralph Nader. It’s enough to send even the most dedicated activist searching for a scorecard and a comfortable seat to watch the game.

But this competition can’t be a spectator sport. The front-loading of primaries means that early moves will matter more than ever. Iowa and New Hampshire still come first, but not by much, as California, New York, Florida and now Illinois have elbowed their way into the early weeks of the nominating process. Instead of the leisurely calendar that once allowed candidates to build momentum, the first weeks of 2008 will see a mad rush that could begin as early as January 2, if Florida’s decision to flout party rules and schedule a January 29 primary spurs South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada to move up their primaries and caucuses. And the process should peak by February 5, when as many as twenty-five states choose delegates. The likelihood is that within weeks of the first voting, the nominations will be settled.

It is precisely the volatility of the ’08 race that creates unprecedented opportunities for progressives: The February 5 “super-duper Tuesday” contests make it more necessary for candidates to appeal aggressively to grassroots activists, and no Democratic candidate will have enough money to “buy” every state, as long as progressives get serious about organizing.

The point is not to organize for a particular contender but rather to assure that whoever wins is accountable to our stances against the Iraq War and for restoration of civil liberties, a robust response to global warming and universal healthcare. All of these issues have wide popular support, perhaps none more than national healthcare–note the raves for Michael Moore’s new film, Sicko (see Christopher Hayes, in this issue).

The progressive voice on these issues will gain traction only if, Democracy for America and Progressive Democrats of America, as well as unions, environmental groups and other issue-focused organizations, rapidly expand into a cohesive movement. New technologies make it easier than ever to organize voter lists and to communicate with voters about the candidates and the evolving dynamics of the race. In partnership with innovative state-based organizations,, unions and other national groups should prepare interventions throughout the process. Such interventions are essential. Given the volatility of the election and the new technologies, this is perhaps the best opportunity in a generation to nominate a genuinely progressive candidate–a candidate who can win next November.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy