Published January 1980 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Long Road to the White House The road to the White House seems to grow longer as the campaign season opens earlier with each election. The presidential "sweepstakes" year is prolonged largely because of the recent proliferation of state primaries and caucuses, where state delegates are chosen to attend each political party's nominating convention. The number of primaries, in particular, has grown since the 1968 Democratic Party rules changes to broaden grass-root's participation in the nominating process. In 1968, there were only 17 primaries; there are 37 tentatively scheduled in 1980, including one in West Virginia. In 15 states, both parties will elect delegates through the caucus process, which involves a multi-tiered system of meetings scheduled over several weeks. Caucus participants are usually a limited number of local party leaders and activists, as opposed to the large numbers of registered Democrats or Republicans who vote in state primaries. The operation of the caucus varies from state to state, and each party has its own rules. But the process often begins with precinct caucuses or some other type of local mass meeting open to all party voters. Participants, often publicly declaring their votes, elect delegates to the next stage in the process. Eight states this year are "hybrids," with one party using a primary, and the other a caucus process. Campaigning in caucus states usually focuses on grass-roots organization, one-to-one personal contact between the candidate and potential supporters, and an early start. Primary campaigns depend more on money than on time, with heavy investments in media advertising, phone banks, and mailings to reach larger numbers of voters. Since 1968 most presidential hopefuls have concentrated on primary campaigning. Now, early caucuses are also stressed. Both processes can serve as springboards for dark-horse candidates by allowing them a share of national attention. Primaries and caucuses can offset the edge enjoyed by the incumbent President, who can: draw on the powers of his office and vast name recognition.
At the same time, the new emphasis on primary and caucus campaigning requires enormous amounts of time, money, and organization. This discourages many well-qualified people, who may not have millions of dollars or a year to devote to campaigning, from seeking the highest office in the land.