A Democratic Party panel is trying to boost the impact minorities play in deciding who the party's candidate will be by adding South Carolina and Nevada to the list of states that hold primaries early in 2008. And that will almost surely buoy media spending in those states, assuming the proposal is approved, as expected, by the Democratic National Committee next month.
More candidates, more money spent
"Two years ago, by the time [the presidential race] got here, it was over," but with the new plan "we eliminate that as a possibility," said Dean White, director-marketing for the Las Vegas Review Journal. "I see it as a win for us. Instead of one or two candidates, there could be an untold number of candidates vying for positioning," he said, and spending media dollars to do so.
There's reason for optimism. Noting that potential presidential candidates have begun scheduling appearances in the market even before the democratic panel made its formal recommendation, Chris Bailey, VP-general manager for WOLO-TV, an ABC affiliate in Columbia, S.C., said: "It's hard to imagine how much might be spent here."
The impact, moreover, could extend beyond the two states. A revamped primary schedule could alter campaign dynamics, prompting some candidates to stay in the race longer, thereby increasing their media spending along the way.
Traditionally, the Iowa caucus kicks off the presidential campaign season in mid January, followed by the New Hampshire primary, and then, about two weeks later, other states quickly select delegates to send to national conventions.
More diverse voting base
Democrats have been concerned that the overwhelming attention to Iowa and New Hampshire, together with the quick pace that follows, gives two states with relatively little ethnic or economic diversity too strong a role in selecting candidates. The new plan is that Nevada, which has a strong Hispanic population and a large labor-union base, will follow Iowa. South Carolina, which has a large African-American population, will follow New Hampshire. Republicans haven't said if they also will move South Carolina and Nevada up on their agenda.
In 2004, when South Carolina was the first Southern primary, it shared the date with six other states. Nevada held its caucus in March. Now Nevada and South Carolina will get their own dates and they will be early.
"It changes things," said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin, who is president of ad agency Erwin-Penfield. "It's an opportunity to generate excitement and its not just going to be for a week or two," he said. "There was great spending last time around, but it will be even more so this time given the perceived openness of the race."
Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, said the primary switch has other repercussions. South Carolina and Nevada are large enough states that candidates will have to rely on media to get their message across, unlike smaller states such as New Hampshire, where other communication efforts, like personal appearances, might do the trick. Also, having more states weigh in early on could extend the process.
Curtails the mass exodus
"The net effect is you won't have a mass exodus [of candidates] after New Hampshire," Mr. Tracey said. "You could see regional candidates hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and hoping a [regional] win gives them more credibility later."
Broadcasters are hopeful about the spending. Michael J. Hayes, president-general manager of WYFF-TV in Greenville, S.C., and president-elect of the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, said, "It will bring more [money] in for television and radio. It takes us out of a clump [of other states] and closer to the front when more candidates are in the race."
Still, most aren't counting on the money just yet. "A lot depends on who is running," said Bob Fisher, president-CEO of the Nevada Broadcasters Association. "It's difficult for us to push ahead to this November, let alone worry about two years from now."