EDITORIAL>>

Moving up primaries

___Arkansas is going to try again to be a big player in the presidential nominating scheme. It has never worked, but let us indulge the politicos one more time.
___Arkansas has changed its nominating machinery several times to make the state a force in the Democratic presidential stakes. In the early 1970s it moved its primary dates from late summer to spring on a hunch that one of its luminaries, U. S. Rep. Wilbur Mills or Gov. Dale Bumpers, might be a contender and benefit from an early favorite-son vote.
___ The Arkansas vote wasnąt a blip on the screen. Arkansasą were the only nominating votes Mills got in 1972, when the party went with Sen. George S. McGovern. We tried early caucuses instead of a presidential primary in 1984, but they were a bust. The legislature changed the primary law for 1988 so that Arkansas would join a batch of Southern states in one big Super Tuesday primary.
___ All the candidates were supposed to swarm on Arkansas to woo voters, and in concert with the states of old Dixie, Arkansans were going to nominate a Southerner. The candidates didnąt come and Southerner Al Gore was crushed that day, effectively ending his candidacy. Bill Clinton ran in 1992 when Arkansas was back in its accustomed late May primary slot, but it turned out he didnąt need us after all.
___ The House of Representatives Monday approved a bill that moves the presidential primaries, Republican and Democratic, from late May, the date of the regular state primaries, to the first Tuesday in February. Unless other states move their primaries up similarly, Arkansas will join New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina as the bellwether states, which should mean that presidential candidates would start showing up next year, if not earlier. If there arenąt too many complications ‹ the Ledge voted Tuesday on an amendment ‹ home demonstration clubs and civic clubs will have no trouble filling their program schedules in 2007.
___ It should make Arkansans wiser participants in the national democracy. On a more prosaic level, although these schemes never do, the early primaries might give an Arkansas candidate a leg up. General Wesley Clark is a potential candidate for president on the Democratic side. This time, he would be afforded a higher profile.
___ It is widely acknowledged now that Sen. John Kerry made a critical mistake in not choosing Clark or Florida Sen. Bob Graham as his vice presidential nominee. Either most likely would have delivered crucial electoral votes. And Gov. Mike Huckabee wants badly to run on the Republican side. The early Arkansas primary also poses a peril for each should he decide to run.
___ The expectations for a lopsided victory at home raises the risk of a decimating disappointment if he falls short. The extra primary will be costly ‹ the legislature has picked Tuesday for the primary instead of the more expensive Saturday date ‹ but it will be worth the cost. The danger is that more states will move their primaries forward, further frontloading a process that already is far too heavy that way.
___ The national parties should draw the line after Arkansas.