Adam Graff had been a hardcore Howard Dean supporter since he joined that candidate’s presidential campaign in March of 2003 as a “grassroots” volunteer.
But now, only days from the March 2 California primary election, the second-year UCSB microbiology major and public affairs coordinator for the Campus Democrats is considering voting for someone else.
Dean is no longer seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge George W. Bush in November 2004. After several weeks of primaries and caucuses across the country, the Democratic field has been narrowed down from nine to four candidates – before Californians have even had a chance to vote.
“The fact is you have very small states that have very few electoral votes, which hold such a disproportionate amount of influence over the process,” Graff said. “It boggles the mind.”
Since 1972, when its primary election was pushed back until later in the election season, California’s 54 electoral votes have had less influence. By the time the primary rolls around, candidates have already bowed out of the running after poor showings in earlier caucuses, or they have used earlier victories to render California’s support less than pivotal.
Some local Democrats said they feel California’s later primary is unfair because it holds local voters hostage to the decisions of voters in other states, in addition to media coverage, which tends to focus on winners rather than on issues.
“California has the biggest slice of electoral pie in the entire country,” Graff said. “States who have more delegates should have more say in the electoral process.”
Garrett Glasgow, a UCSB political science professor who teaches Political Science 151, Voting and Elections, said it is somewhat unusual for a primary field of candidates to have sorted out so quickly.
“A lot of people think this was a deliberate strategy by the Democrats to get their bickering out early to focus on beating Bush,” Glasgow said. “It seems to have worked in that sense, but the flip side is that voters [in later primaries] feel a little bit left out.”
Graff said that if compressing the primary season was supposed to help the Democrats beat Bush come November, it was the wrong strategy.
“The longer the primary race, the longer [Democrats] would have to hammer Bush,” Graff said. “The more air time they have, the worse it is for Bush. It’s just less opportunity for the candidates to be tested.”
Taj Meadows, who was tabling for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards in front of the UCen Thursday, said news coverage of the race adds to challenges facing second- and third-running candidates as a result of the compressed primary schedule.
“Very little news coverage focuses on campaign issues,” Meadows said. “When you focus on one candidate, you destroy what democracy should be. It should be about sharing ideas.”
Meadows, a double major in sociology and communication who is also a member of the Campus Democrats, said he started an Edwards presence on campus to maintain a broad representation of the Democratic field, despite John Kerry’s recent dominance of primary elections and media coverage.
Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts currently leads the Democratic field vying for the party’s nomination with 744 electoral votes, with Edwards next behind him with 220 electoral votes.
Graff said the compression of the primary season allows one candidate to dominate early on because there is less time between elections for criticism from the media and other candidates.
“With longer weeks between primaries, even if one person was leading, there would be time for the momentum to change,” Graff said, “Once Kerry started winning, it’s been almost impossible to derail him.”
Since Dean’s campaign was the first to begin, Graff blames its failure partly on its overexposure to the media. As soon as Dean showed poorly in the first Iowa caucus, the media looked to the victor – shifting the race’s attention and momentum to Kerry.
Another Campus Democrats member, Ben Sheldon-Tarzynski, was tabling for Kerry outside the UCen Thursday. While he said he thought Kerry was most likely going to receive the Democratic nomination, no one should count the other candidates out.
“It’s not like [Edwards] is a distant second; he’s still pulling,” Sheldon-Tarzynski said. “The people that come to the table are split 50/50 between people who are already supporting Kerry, and people who just want to make sure that Bush isn’t president again.”
Graff said he has not decided who he will vote for in Dean’s place.
“I’ve invested over a year of my life in the Dean campaign,” Graff said. “I’ve talked to my friends and family about it; I’ve phone-banked; I’ve written letters and editorials for newspapers across the country. My heart is with the Dean campaign – it always will be – but since he’s not campaigning for the nomination any more, I think my vote would be better spent somewhere else. I might vote for Edwards.”