___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.