A LOOK BACK AT THE PRIMARIES….After the 2000 election the leaders of the Democratic party decided to shorten the primary season in 2004. The idea was to try and decide on a candidate early instead of having the Dems pummel each other senseless on national TV for six mind numbing months.

So how did it work out? In a word, brilliantly:

  • Needless to say, the abbreviated primary season accomplished its goal: today is March 3rd and we have a candidate. Instead of spending several more grueling months on the rubber chicken circuit, John Kerry can now spend them raising money, plotting strategy, resting up a bit, and thinking about a VP.

  • But there’s more: it also forced all the candidates (except Wes Clark) to start campaigning extremely early. This meant that by January, when most people started paying attention, their messages were well honed, they knew what they were doing, and they weren’t getting tripped up in lots of stupid mistakes. Result: all the candidates looked serious and professional and there were no huge gaffes. This was nothing but good news for the party image.

  • Finally, the condensed season made for a great show. It was intense, something new happened weekly, the press loved it, there was loads of coverage, and it was short enough that the public didn’t get bored with it. All in all, it allowed the Democrats to steal the spotlight from Bush and instead shine it 24/7 on attacks on Bush. Result: Bush’s poll numbers are down, he’s feeling a little staggered, and his campaign is spending money earlier than it wanted on TV ads to resuscitate his image.

Bush’s current problems are partly the result of external events, of course, but even so I think the intense media spotlight on the Democrats provided them far more opportunity to frame those events negatively than they normally could have.

There’s no guarantee that things will work out this well next time, and there’s certainly no guarantee of having an ideal pacesetter like Howard Dean in the future either. But it sure worked great this time.